CHANGES FOR BETTER OR WORSE, by Bernadette Vincent
It is said that changes can be as traumatic as loosing someone, whether it is moving houses, countries, children moving out, becoming a grandparent, loosing friends or a pet, changing job, there is always a certain amount of grief to go through. But changes can also be insidious, slow and irreversible... like aging. At 10, you can’t wait to be 15 and when you’re 20, being 40 seems a lifetime away. But from 40, time seems not to be so expendable anymore. Now at 61, I look at people in their seventies, and think, oh god, I’m almost there... Ten years ago, life seemed still long and full of things to come. Now, the future looks shorter and way more uncertain. Of course anyone can die at any point, but it is not really about dying but more about aging, when all one can see are the things one cannot do anymore. And so the grieving begins.
My husband’s Mum, who is almost like mine since I never really had a mother, is 86. She has always been full of energy, raised 4 children, and helped built her own house. She lost her husband 20 years ago, moved city and lived on her own till now. She visited us in Korea and in Tanzania. She has been a pillar for the family and extended family for so many years, her house always open for celebrations of all sorts. And up to her late seventies, she was still doing her garden, driving around, feeding all the lost animals in the neighbourhood.
And then it really started to happen, the knee replacements, the walking with a cane, the back problems, the tiredness, the loss of autonomy, the family taking over the shopping, the repairs, the vet visits. The shuffling around, the clumsiness, the long hours sitting in a reclining chair, watching television and falling asleep because reading requires too much effort.
And then, their are the friends passing away, the brothers she will never be able to see again because they live in England and cannot make the trip anymore either, the waiting for another day, the routine, the cat who is 20 years old and demands constant attention but keeps her going, the dog who is on his last leg, and will probably not be replaced. But there are also the small comforts, a cup of tea, a visit, a phone call, a birthday card, a photo from a grandchild holidaying somewhere. The proudness of being a great-grandmother.
There are the annoying little things, the top shelf which has become unreachable all of a sudden, the varicose veins stockings that take ages to put on and off, the worry of not reaching the toilet in time, the photo that shows how old she really looks but had forgotten about. And this all-consuming thought that she is now useless and no good to anyone.
Some days are semi-bright and others much darker, she wants to do things and see people, but her body is not following. Getting up means telling her legs she wants to move but actually waiting for them to do it. She doesn’t want people to help all the time but she knows she needs it. Things start to change in her house, a chair lift, a new shower, carpets taken away, ramps added everywhere.
And of course everyone tries to cheer her up, telling her that old means wise, that she has earned to take her time or to be grumpy. That it makes people feel good to be able to help, so she is actually doing them a favour. That maybe all the things that she has to do in the evening before going to bed or in the morning before getting up can be turned into meditation... I can’t believe I actually told her that... when all she wants to do is move faster, sing, play the piano, do her garden, go for a walk with her dog...
Too close for comfort. I do understand her frustration and frankly her courage as I feel I might not want to live that old if I have a choice, but who knows really what I would do or how I would feel in her situation.
For six years I suffered from an infection that drove me crazy. I had to give up any physical activities, was in pain most of the time, couldn’t play or go anywhere with my grand children, was house bound most of the time, tired, and depressed. I just couldn’t accept that this would my life for the rest of my life. But I almost always had hope that one day, things would get better, and it did. Diet and surgery two years ago changed my life again, for the better. And I am so grateful for that.
But aging is irreversible, and will only get worse, that is a fact of life. So I keep reminding myself to stand and sit straight, because I don’t want to stoop forward in 20 years time. Smile more, accept help with gratefulness, keep dreaming, keep planning, forget about how old you are, but remember, it will happen at some point. When it does, I will always remember Mami and the effect she had on all of us. Because despite all her aches and pains and her depressed moments, she is caring, and funny and grateful for each new day. She is still at the centre of our family life for good and for bad, in sickness and health.
I’m just not sure I want to be like her, I’m not that strong, and would prefer to go quietly with my man if he goes before me, or be somewhere far away where the family won’t be able to fuss or worry about me, and where I would be able to choose when it is time. But I’m still young and will probably change my mind when the time comes! Accepting change is the hardest thing ever and yet, life is change, every minute of the day... and the best thing to do should be embracing it, but we are only human.