“For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne”
I learned recently that when a wolf pack travels, the first three are the old or sick, who set the pace for the entire pack. Then come five strong ones, the front line, followed by the rest of the pack. The alpha leads from behind. The pack moves only as fast as its elders. If it were the other way around, the wise old wolves would be left behind. If only we humans valued our elderly in the same way. Instead, when our greying geezers can no longer keep up the pace, we shuttle them off to nursing homes and jump back into the rat race with the vague hope that they are cared for and content.
It’s an ugly reality that no amount of bingo and bland food can disguise.
So I propose another way of looking at things – through the eyes of our elderly. In my case, that’s through the eyes of my parents, who are living, semi-independently, in a retirement community. My siblings and I forced the issue after one too many falls and strokes. When Gmamma (as my son christened my mother) toppled over into a box of Christmas ornaments in the basement and couldn’t get up, DooDaddy (my father, also named by my son when he was small) called the fire department instead of calling me.
He didn’t want me to know that he and my mother were struggling to get by on their own. They preferred to fall down the stairs and drive into oncoming traffic rather than sacrifice their freedom. They feared being institutionalized. They feared Old Age.
But now they have embraced it. While they are under no illusions that their situation is optimal, Gmamma and DooDaddy have accepted it. And it is this acceptance that impresses me. How many of us hate our jobs, are miserable in our marriages, longing for change? Is it really our circumstances or is it our attitude? Because happiness is a choice.
I was somewhere with DooDaddy awhile back, after he broke his hip and was still in a wheelchair. Someone asked him how he was … But my father realized that the someone was just being polite. She didn’t really want to hear the litany of his ailments and complaints. So he answered with a smile, “Let me tell you, old age is a full time job, but it beats the alternative.” Laughter ensued. The moment passed. Without pity. Without awkwardness. And my father retained his dignity.
Gmamma’s world has gotten smaller and smaller. She relies on my dad, her partner of 57 years, to walk her to the dining room three times a day and work the crossword with her every morning. DooDaddy is vice-chairman of the residents’ council. He goes to exercise class three mornings a week. They play bridge every Friday afternoon, even though DooDaddy tends to fall asleep between bids. It’s the new normal.
They can’t remember names and places anymore. Gmamma is deaf and almost blind. They both use walkers to get around. But they take comfort in the little things, the artwork they brought with them from home. A good night’s sleep, which is rare these days. Calls and visits from friends and family. An occasional strawberry salad at Aubrey’s.
My parents are setting the pace, but I am too restless to slow down and follow their lead. I practice yoga to still my mind and stay in the moment, but still I’m stressed and anxious. If only I could accept what is and let go of the rest.
My New Year’s Resolutions are to respect Gmamma and DooDaddy’s age and wisdom, their life experience and their perseverance, to honor my parents with patience and kindness, and to emulate their gracious acceptance of life’s circumstances.
Happy New Year, and cheers to aging gracefully!