Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thoughts on Aging

Nana is one of the most difficult people I've ever met.

At 83 years-old she's got a body and mind overflowing with life experiences that often contradict with my own (and most other people's).

The other day, Mom and Dad were both gone and Nana and I were going to have over 8 hours together. Nana sat down to eat lunch as I was preparing my own. I wanted to make mine and run downstairs to hide and avoid interaction. But I didn't. I took a deep breath and set my food down on the table next to her and she proceeded to ask me for the 3rd time in ten minutes, "What is that? (scrunched up nose) What are you eating?"

I got up, walked around the corner, shook my fist at the ceiling, sought sympathy from Oscar (the family dog) and received none. So I took a deep breath, went back, and sat down. See, it isn't one comment, it's the multitudes of critical comments over the years. They accumulate like spontaneous second-hand buys that sit in your closet and never get worn. The comments just sit there, sometimes festering, but rarely forgotten.

I am not as patient as I could be because I still expect her to be as clear and equally critical as she's been my whole life. Alzheimers has stolen her memory. So now, Nana's equally critical, just less clear. Now she isn't being difficult on purpose and it's so hard to grant her grace when she lashes out.

"Nana, how was your dentist appointment? How are you feeling?" Nana complains a lot, so she took this opportunity as well. I listened. After about 30 minutes of circular remarks I've already heard at least four times since getting home four days ago, I asked her, "What would make your life better?" After about 20 minutes of keeping her on track and paraphrasing what she was saying, I looked at Nana differently: she's lonely.

Mom and Dad are gone for five days on a much-needed vacation from full-time care of Nana. I offered. So here we are. I have a break between school and camp, so I thought that maybe I could give Nana some of that quality time she's been craving. It's been a rough few days. I write this (as I do most things) for my own therapy. If I don't sort these things out in my head, I'll deal with them in a much less productive and more hurtful way with her later.

Nana does not like low-cut, strapless wedding dresses. I know. She told me 8 times on Thursday afternoon.

The "one" thing Nana does like about Colorado are the well-manicured lawns. I know. She told me about 6 times on Thursday afternoon.

Nana does not like clothes made with material that must be ironed. I know. She told me 7 times during our one hour in Old Navy.

Nana does not like fat people. I know. She told in roundabout ways each time she saw a person who is overweight.

Nana has something to say about people who are Mexican.
People who are Black.
People who don't have well-kept lawns.
People who don't dress their children well.
People who look, act, behave in a way that is "weird" to Nana.

We have a lot of circular conversations. I feel like I am giving up on her by not telling her she's repeating herself. But telling her this only makes for a nasty argument, which I witnessed this week. So I just say, "Uh huh. Yeah. Okay."
She hates that she's 83 years-old.
She hates that her health is failing her.
She hates that she is lonely.
She hates being bored and asked me yesterday, "What are you going to do to entertain me?"
Sometimes I think she hates being alive.

In sharp contrast to Nana, my Dad's dad, Grandpa Dale has a much different outlook on life. He's probably about 87 years-old and still farming. He's lost three wives to cancer and car accidents. He still gets out of bed in the morning and remains incredibly optimistic. He laughs. He tells stories. He lets go of things he can't control. He has something to live for. I'm not sure Nana does.

This week at the gym, an elderly man pointed to me and motioned that I come over to him. He introduced himself as David. He's 80 years-old and comes every day to exercise/flirt. His son died five years ago and his wife (whom he described as "drop dead gorgeous") died shortly after, from a broken heart." He continued, "She just couldn't let go. She couldn't see anything other than our son's death. She she followed after him."

Having Nana fresh on my mind, I asked him, "What keeps you young? Because as I've seen with Nana and my Grandpa, the best anti-ager is a positive attitude."

David nodded his head in agreement and said, "That's exactly what it is. Some people my age choose to die long before they take their last breath. A positive attitude, a reason to live, is what keeps me a live. That, and," he leaned in closer, "I'm a stubborn son-of-a-bitch!"

It's Saturday. I'd be completely content staying home and reading and breathing. But Nana is "bored." So we're going to go out to lunch and to a local festival.
Nana won't be changing any time soon.
She won't magically stop making critical and judgmental statements about myself or others.
She has Alzheimers.
She's going to forget.
She's going to talk in circles.
She's going to do things she doesn't know she's doing.

I can choose to react or I can choose to take deep breaths.

Just as I would hope others will do with me when I'm 83.


kessia reyne said...

I often think about getting old and I've decided that who I am now shapes who I will be then-- so I'm going to live happy now! to live happy then!

And Heather-- may the Lord grant you compassion and overflowing patience, like the kind He has.