A "Musing" that is far from "amusing".

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I've posted before about my mother. Just turned 87, looks and acts 100. She's been difficult in the past, and now suddenly, freshly dxed with dementia, is now becoming a fairly nice person. I have mixed feelings about that. Always self centered--that hasn't changed, but she's suddenly kind of sweet to me, which she has NEVER been. I am a but flummoxed, but grateful.
She lives in an apt attached to younger brother's home, Has for 20 years. She needs a walker to get anywhere and she is slowly slipping into total la-la land--again, A new dynamic since none of our grandparents did this.


I took her to her 70th High School class reunion on Sat. I didn't "stay". but sat on a chair near the park pavilion and observed. Here were about 40-50 other 87-90 yo people and the contrast amongst them was astounding. Mother had to sit on a chair at the end of a bench, as there was no way she could have gotten on the bench. The woman sitting next to mother was a former cheerleader and when the time came to sing the school song, jumped up onto the bench (I kid you not, didn't even use her hands to touch the table, just hopped up like a little grasshopper) and led the rest in the school fight song. The contrast between mother, who is slumped over, can barely raise her head, and this woman who seemingly had more energy than I've EVER seen my mother show...I wish I had videod it. Most of the people there were somewhere between mother's capabilities ( very limited) and this perky lady. Sadly, mother actually looked without question, to be the oldest and most life-worn person there. The women definitely looked better than the few men who remain. And some of these ladies were actually so beautiful and amazingly fit--I couldn't help but realize my own mother has been "old" for a very long time.


Mother tired out pretty quickly as one by one, she was finding that either few people remembered her, and most of her friends from HS are long gone...she stayed as long as she could (2 hours) and was kind of quiet on the way home. It meant a LOT to her that she went to this, and she did ask if I could take her to the 75th...


I guess what hit me so profoundly was the question in my mind: Why do some people age so quickly and so badly? Is it genetic? Is it lack of exercise? Lack of "caring". Mother has had more than 50 surgeries in her life, she's a recovering hypochondriac who was never well a day in my life. She didn't exercise, eat particularly well and was an angry, bitter "victim"--so is it attitude? I don't expect answers and I'm not asking for any, really. It was just such a wake up call to me. I'm 60 and by 60 my mother was nearly bed-bound, by her own choice. Sick all the time, in and out of the hospital for whatever--then daddy got dxed with Parkinson's and she HAD to step up and let HIM be the patient for the only time in their lives. And she resented him for that.


Now she's barely mobile, she doesn't make sense if you talk to her very long, she reeks of urine (has a supra pubic catheter but still leaks, and won't change her depends often enough)...her apt is cluttered and messy, but she seems OK with that.


Am I destined to be just like this? Terrifying. I have been thinking about this all weekend. So--just musing, like I said. And it's NOT amusing.

24 Comments

We've all seen the gym rat who dropped over dead or got cancer or dementia, or the people who battle one illness after another all their lives or smoked a pack a day or had other bad habits who continue on til they're in their 90's or beyond. Everyone always remarks about the people like the cheerleader at your mother's reunion but the reality, as you noticed, is that most people are not that well preserved. I personally feel it's like Forrest Gump said, you never know what you're going to get.
midkid, that is such a good question. I've seen some women who are in their 80-90s who are dancing, exercising, and attending yoga classes. I've seen others who are old and ready to meet their maker when they're 70. I think genetic plays a huge role, but I think that lust for life is even more important. The people I can think of that got old early are those that lived a solitary and depressed existence. Maybe other people and activities help keep us young. My mother and father both got old in their 70s, but lived another 20 years. I don't know if you would call it living, though. It has been more like waiting for God.
Well, if you're in much better shape than your mother was at the same age that's a good sign, isn't it?

I know Oscar Wilde said "all women become like their mothers. That's their tragedy. No man does. That's his." But then again he did make a living out of talking to effect, so I wouldn't take it too much to heart.

Having said that, my mother's family females all seem to dwindle away and drop off the twig in roughly the same sort of pattern - a couple of cancers, but otherwise age and frailty and eventually almost a decision to give up. My mother's CHF wasn't related to genetics or lifestyle, unless you count getting rheumatic fever in childhood as lack of moral fibre (as I suspect my grandmother may have done, subconsciously - she never had much patience with my mother). On the other hand, my father's side were more the fast-and-furious die-young-stay-pretty types. Which would give me about fourteen years to go. Which is also sobering.

Are you sure this is a productive chain of thought to start??!!

But no, it doesn't look like destiny to me, once you've ruled out a few key knowables. All the same for you your mother's waste of opportunity and, well, life years I suppose, must be very sad to watch.

We can't all be sprightly 87 year old cheerleaders though can we! Perhaps some sort of happy mean..? :)
I guess I should add that many of the active older women I've known have died fairly quickly late in life. It is like they lived life fully and then poof! it was over. That is what I'd like to do. I don't want to die just an bit each day and wait for God too long.
Those thoughts are never far from my mind either. I work in a rehab facility and witness the ravages of time and unhealthy habits every day. I believe that we are faced with choices every day for which we will be responsible for the rest of our lives. We have to live on purpose so that we are aware of those choices and know what consequences we are signing up for. The patients I see who do better at an advanced age are those (1) who have been active. They are involved in some regular activity. It may be golf, walking in the neighborhood, dancing, swimming, whatever; but they do it every day. They also are (2) intentional in their nutrition. They get their fruits and veggies and watch their cholesterol. They want to be healthy. Another characteristic they seem to share is their (3) flexibility, and I don't mean joints. When something comes up unexpectedly, they don't freak out. They have learned to go with the flow. I am not naturally like this so I started exercising my flexibility to try to loosen up. I wear my watch on a different wrist every day. At first it drove me crazy not to find my watch at first glance. But after a while, I learned that it was no big deal; I will eventually find it, right? Sometimes things don't need to go our way to be okay. We can live even if we aren't always in control of everything. My little young old people taught me that.
Another thing these folks have is (4) incredible resilience. They bounce back. Life has dealt them blows, but they haven't quit. I am sure they feel like it when they have lost their spouse of many years, when they have buried a child, lost their sight, etc....They grieve but they have gotten back up. They don't do it by themselves. They have friends and family, church support, even meds (antidepressants, etc..) But they have made the decision not to give in to the lie that their lives were worthless and over. They have hope for the future.
I am a strong believer that no matter where or who you come from that you make your own life. You are not destined to become your mother. You can make different choices.
I agree with cwillie. You never know what you're going to get. I've always heard that it's mainly DNA. Some folks come from strong stock and they have parents, grandparents, etc who live into their 90's, still active and sound. There's so much now with environmental concerns, nutrition, antibiotic resistant bacteria, etc. What's a middle aged person to do? I've spent the last couple of weeks researching the least harmful Sparkling Water.......I never thought I'd be doing that! lol

I witnessed great grandparents who lived with sound body and mind well into their 80's, even though they ate country diet, fat, lard, and dipped snuff. lol They never took any kind of pills for anything, though saw a doctor when sick. They both stayed active, cooking, walking, and reading.

But, I also have those in the family who are sick all the time, yet, they worked well into their 70's!

I have a family member who has significant dementia at this point, but, she actually became much nicer than she was before getting dementia. It does happen.

My dad is 80 and at his last Class reunion( Class of 1956), one of his high school teachers was present....and she drove herself there! Go figure.
Midkid,
Here is another way to look at it.
Anyone else closer to your Mom's age and infirmaties stayed home, bedridden, could not, or did not want to come. At least she wants to go to her 75th reunion, and went to this one.

And, we never know about that cheerleader....a world traveler known to advance two years upon arriving at her school...got up on that bench, determined to keep her place in the spotlight, is today taking at least two weeks to recover from the exertion of it all, is on steroid shots both before and after the event....etc. etc. Lol.

We all age differently, and comparing can make us miserable.

Good though, that you brought this up. Reading what can happen to us as we age has lit a fire under me!

I recently saw an interview of Dick Vandyke age 91, Carl Reiner age 95, and another comedy king in his 90's, (I can't recall his name.) together being interviewed! It was quite a treat. They talked about the secret to having a good life and longevity. (Being 90) I tried to find where it aired, but, can't locate it. If anyone else saw it, please let me know.
Thanks for the answers and comments. I didn't really expect any!

I am actually in no way like my mother. I'm MUCH healthier and more active than she ever was. Even when I was a child, she'd spend long periods in bed and my grandmother would just come scoop us all up and we'd live with her and granddad for a while. While I was in college, mother took to her bed for 6 months....dad asked me to drop a couple of classes and quit my job to essentially stay home and be "the mom" to my 3 younger sibs. I resented this terribly, but family did for family. She kind of came out of that, slowly and over the rest of my life she's been mostly in bed or on the verge of some terrible illness or recovering from surgery. Without doubt she had mental issues, depression, anxiety, whatever. She's never handled life well. She's so old now that most stuff is just forgotten and she has mentally re-written the past. When I asked my older sister for some help for the next 6 weeks as brother heals from back surgery, sis actually said "No, I will not help. I will PAY for anything, but I'm done being involved. Call me when she dies." Ok. Younger sister and brother both want to only be involved maybe one night a week (this is not when she requires care) and never on the weekends.

I spent a while this am checking out Home Care agencies and have one (one I actually worked for) and found that she is covered 100% for as many aides/in home care as she could use. I have to convince at least 2 other sibs to OK this. I am realistic that my own time should be spent enjoying my 13 grandkids and my hubby and looking forward to retirement. She's used me up down and sideways for 45 years.

Genetics say I will live a long life. I plan to. As long as I am healthy and active and happy. Mother is my one "trigger" into spiraling depression---no long backstory needed, she just is. I cannot take 3-4 days a week care of her. I also won't. One day, OK. No more. I hope none of my kids feel that way about me (I just got back from Houston and a 10 day babysitting gig for my daughter--something my mother wouldn't ever have considered, at ANY age).

BTW, the cheerleader was the mother of a girl I went to HS with. She legitimately is that active and spry. Still, it was a shock to see her hop up like that!!

I am not sorry I spent that long day with mother (oh we went shopping before the reunion and that was a whole other dreadful deal--2 hours to buy $22 worth of groceries that she didn't need. It DID light a spark in me that I am going to do more, exercise more and stay more upbeat. Mother really is my only "sliver in the foot".
sunnygirl1, I believe the Carl Reiner interview was on HBO. It was called something like, "If I'm not in the obits when I read my paper in the morning, I eat my breakfast". Having a good sense of humor as you age certainly helps. Maybe you can find it on google.

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