Friday, December 27, 2013

Aging with Grace

My mother grew old pretty gracefully, and it was a blessing to us all. She chose a retirement community to move to where she would be taken care of as she gradually lost the ability to care for herself – completely accepting the fact that she would gradually lose the ability to care for herself and not wanting my sisters and I to be burdened with that. She didn't seem to have a lot of problems selling her house or the bulk of its contents. Giving up the car was a bit of a struggle, my sisters told me, but overall, she took her declining years in stride and sought to enjoy what she had rather than mourn or rage over what she had lost.

That's how I want to do it.

My dad had Alzheimer's for twenty-one years, and since there is a genetic component to that, I'm preparing myself. I've already made it quite clear to hubby and the kids that I don't need them trying to pull any heroics about taking care of me in their homes long past when it makes sense. Find me a good nursing home, keep close tabs on me, but don't put my life or your lives in jeopardy or make yourselves miserable trying to “do the noble thing”. Yeah, I'll want to be with my family, but I wouldn't want to be there if I knew I was making your life hell.

My brother-in-law's dad was at our family Christmas this year. My sister and her husband have just recently moved in with him because he can no longer take care of himself. He has a form of dementia, and -- please don't think this was crass -- he was kind of entertaining. I think he asked me four or five times who I was (he's known me since I was a kid). “Oh, you're from San Antonio? There's someone else here from San Antonio . . . “ Yep, that would be my family. Dad B also asked his grandson if he had a girlfriend yet. “Yes, Grandpa, I'm married, actually.” "Oh, would you like me to perform the ceremony?" “Actually, you already did, Grandpa.”

If I have to get loopy when I get older, I hope I at least provide holiday entertainment for the family. And I hope they don't feel so sad about it that they can't enjoy the humor.

In my mind, when I imagine losing it, I figure that if I know it's coming, it won't be as upsetting as it was to my dad and to so many people I see getting old. If I just accept that I can't remember things as well . . . I can't do things as quickly . . . I can't understand some of the stuff that's being discussed . . . and simply, like my mom, enjoy what I have rather than mourn or rage over what I've lost . . . I'll be fine.

In my heart, I know better. I know there comes a point when you forget the grace you intended to remember. Hopefully, it will only be for short spurts.

I suspect that the best way to prevent becoming an angry, miserable old woman is to be certain that I'm not now an angry, miserable middle-aged woman in disguise. Sometimes, old age changes you. But I suspect old age more often simply takes off your masks and reveals who you really are. Which means now is the time to let God do the painful work of remaking who I really am.

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