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It’s Hell Getting Old

Speaking of cultural juxtaposition, try this on for size: Your parents living with you once they can’t take care of themselves. Like in many Asian cultures, most Indian-born do not send their parents to The Home at the onset of decline. (Now some of you know why your folks kept you in their home and paid for your education until you were married.) When I talk to those outside the culture about this, they cannot fathom that India did not have any retirement homes until recently, a phenomenon grown by better, more accessible healthcare, longer life expectancies and new-fangled notions of independent living.

My grandmother lives with my uncle and will do so until she passes away, my parents will stay with my brother or me, and my little niece has promised my brother she will not “send him away.” What about D’s dad? What about D and me? We don’t know. It’s nice to imagine being super-healthy until death, thus not putting someone in the position of taking care of you. It’s amazing to imagine “living and dying in dignity” in your child’s home – definitely a lot nicer than being put away in an assisted-living facility with a bunch of people you don’t know, a nurse to whom you’re a number and your kids and grandkids visiting you every odd Easter and Christmas Sunday. And it’s even better to envision not being a burden on your children, who have lives and better things to do than bathe your sorry behind, so get thee to a nursing home and quickly. We don’t know.

Especially during this harsh economic time, I get nauseous on reading stories and statistics like this (emphasis mine).

… In New Hampshire, according to the state Office of Energy and Planning, between 2000 and 2010, the state’s population of seniors age 55 – 64 will have grown from 109,659 to 206,177 and the number of people age 65 – 74 will have gone from 78,327 to 114,304.

Despite the state making a concerted effort to shift focus and resources away from nursing homes and more toward home care, the concern expressed by some health care and social service providers is that there will not be enough trained health industry workers to provide care, even in the home, forcing more of the duties of home care onto untrained family members.

… because of a lack of enough home health care workers in their area … [s]eniors are either permanently moved into a home because of not having available home health care or a senior who is in a home for rehabilitation must linger there longer than necessary because home health care cannot be coordinated quickly.

All life is roulette, but such ignominy when you’re that old? At the mercy of willing or unwilling, capable or incapable family members or a failing and uncoordinated healthcare system? You came all the way for this? It’s no way to live.

I often wonder what now goes on in my grandmother’s head, what a place that must be to inhabit. All I can arrive at is dignity vs. burden: I would despise being who I am, making it to 80 or 90, falling apart and having to end up in some home where an underpaid nurse washes and dresses me, talks to me like I’m a “wittle baybee,” feeds me applesauce and stuffs me with codeine until I fall asleep. But, am I willing to make my child(ren) take on these responsibilities when they’re to be out in the world living and not breathing my decay? The kicker is what it really boils down to: choice, or the lack thereof. Your mind may be as sharp as a tack and your body uncooperative, or vice versa, and you will have no say in the remainder of your days.

God, please let me keel over and kick at the age of 80 in mid-jog. Or, if I live to be 100, please let me live like this woman. Why are we given awesome brains and built-in tools for discovery, adventure and growth only to deteriorate with disease and old age? Is this someone’s idea of a joke?

Then again, when you’re that old, you can do things like this and get away with it. Hee hee hee!

… One interesting moment when we were wheeling my folks to the gate: this woman just strode right out of a store and got hit by my Mom’s wheelchair. The woman nearly shrieked “Excuse Me!!” in an indignant manner, to which my mother replied “Get out of my way, you bitch, I’m old!”

3 comments… add one
  • Cold Spaghetti April 28, 2009, 11:00 AM

    When I worked in rural India, the question I was asked the most often about the U.S. (and always in hushed voices, like they were afraid or hesitant to even ask) were: “is it true that in America, children are forced out of the house when you turn 18?” And: “is it true that in America, grandparents live in centers for the elderly far away from family?”

    Both notions were as unthinkable to them — as if the next thing they’d discover is that we eat newborn babies.

  • mominem April 30, 2009, 11:03 PM

    My cousin is fond of saying , “Getting old ain’t for sissy’s”.

    My mother’s mother lived her own life, moving into a “progressive living” community for many years, controlling her own life and finances until shortly before her death, just short of 100.

    My other grandmother lives on her in own house well into her 90’s.

    My mother, who vowed never to be a burden on anyone, recently moved in with my sister.

    Life cannot be predicted, all you can do is live it the best you can.

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