98-year-old Mother-in-law’s Visit–continued

Insights: The Old Old and Change

Two years ago when my then 96-year old mother-in-law and Senior Advisor R, flew to NY, we were in our suburban home. She had been there many times, felt completely at home, and loved coming. This week she came to see our new apartment (which has no guest bedroom) and celebrate our anniversary with us.

R is in a hotel two blocks away. We thought we’d chosen wisely and carefully. And we did. But how were we to know the doors to the rooms were thick and very heavy–difficult to push open, especially with one hand holding a cane for balance. Difficult even for me to push open!

My husband and I, of course, looked at the rooms before making the reservation. We didn’t, however, open the doors to the rooms. One of the staff had the keys and that responsibility. With visions of R trapped in her room the next morning, we reminded her she could push the phone’s “O” button and request someone come open the door for her. As mentioned in the last post, her flight arrived late at night. We knew she would be going to sleep before long. In the morning we would rectify any other unexpected challenges.

A woman who takes pride in her independence, R is creative about making things work out for herself. But in a strange hotel room, she wasn’t so inclined. The thermostat (room was too cold–we reset it); the TV remote (looked like hers, but the channels had different numbers necessitating reading the accompanying chart, which we explained but she said she was too tired to get her reading glasses and focus); and the telephone, which had a zillion strange buttons, was confusing.

None of these would cause younger people more than a few moments hesitation–but they were a change and as such, presented challenges to her taken-for-granted way of living. While confident and able to adapt to any new problems she encountered in her own home, she lacked the energy and will required to learn something temporary at this stage of life.

R feels responsibility to share aspects of aging with you through my blog and makes the point that although she knew the trip to NY wouldn’t be easy, she was mentally prepared for challenges. However, two realizations emerged:
1. Not being able to do certain things easily, that she could do but a few years ago, was sobering.

2. The blessing of being together in NY was special and rewarding for R. Indeed we all had a good time, excellent meals, substantive talks, and some laughs. R. said this is probably her last trip to NY. She’ll be 99 in three months. I can certainly understand why.

What do we learn?
At a certain age, change becomes more, then more– difficult.

Doesn’t that help explain why adult children’s insistence that older parents move out of their home for assisted/independent living or whatever, (when it’s not absolutely necessary because neither their life nor limb is threatened), often has dire consequences–because parents can’t make the effort to adjust?

It also seems to me that being more alert and receptive to problem solving is easier–especially for older people–in the morning when they’re fresh, as opposed to the evening when fatigue has set in.

Lastly, we can’t anticipate every glitch in our best laid plans as we try to help aging parents. Other thoughts?

Broken Hip Recovery Jan. 2011; Flying 2,000 Miles Alone to Visit in May

Are Today’s Old, Old Amazing–or What?
A Lesson for Us, No Doubt

My husband and I still have one more aging parent, his mother (click Sr. Advisors tab above, hover over “R.”) who continues to age well at 98 1/2. You’ve read her thoughts (she reiterates it gets harder every day) and suggestions for helping older people age well (most recently about eating and purchasing food). The latest: R just told us she has one more trip (plane flight) to NY in her and will be coming the end of May if it’s OK with us. We’re delighted. How do we age well and even become amazing?

I realize how much I’ve learned from R and my other Sr. Advisors (and some of you) about discipline, instincts, knowledge, energy–combinations of those plus health and initiative. Let me share four givens–lessons if you will from them–applicable to us and to our aging parents age.

1. How we spend time on this earth–ends up being 24/7 for everyone. That doesn’t change. What changes is how we decide to fill those hours. We can make a life for ourselves or not.
     Specifically: R, widowed at 51, decided she couldn’t lie around feeling sorry for herself. Not that it was easy to get out of bed every morning, she admits. Nevertheless she says she gave herself a little pep talk that went something like “I can control what I do– succumb to being miserable or try to make something of each day–just put one foot on the floor and then the other. Then get up and keep putting one foot ahead of the other. Get cleaned up. Get going

2.  Connections with others–so important to aging well. We hear it, we know it. Easier said than done, especially when old or recently widowed.
      Specifically: When R was widowed, she realized for the most part couples no longer included her. If she was to “get back into circulation” she knew she would need to take the initiative…hard to contemplate, harder to do, she says. But it was her only option.  We live thousands of miles away so weren’t there to fill in her empty hours. Perhaps, looking back, it was good. R got herself together and made a life for herself.

3. Taking the initiative“Joining” clearly brings connections and interest into one’s life.
Specifically: While it takes initiative to make that first call and appear at the first meeting knowing no one, joining has been a life saver for many. Sr. Advisor M, says it saved her life after she was widowed. But joining isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t for R, who looked for new ways to reconnect with people she had known and liked. She learned that if she invited someone to lunch, she was never turned down (“a free meal,” she says laughingly). And slowly but surely she gained a group of friends, some younger than she. And she was introduced to their unmarried friends. As the decades passed she found the younger friends energetic, interesting and interested. Now most of her contemporaries have died. Her young friends value her wisdom and enrich her life.

4. Family–“Friends are family you get to choose.” Understand this, especially in problematic families or in families where children live far away. It enriches quality of life.
     Specifically: Very few family members live near R; and R has chosen friends wisely. Many are like family and that feeling goes both ways. As readers know, R has been like a grandmother to some of her neighbors’ children. She has gone to countless Grandparents’ Days, been interviewed about WW’s I and II etc. And like a very good grandmother, she sent a turkey dinner to her neighbor’s son at college back east–for him and his friends who couldn’t make it home for Thanksgiving. Genuine caring and generosity–priceless–and seemingly repaid again and again in R’s case.

These are the best examples of the warm, touchy-feely aspects we want incorporate for aging parents–and for ourselves when our day comes. Next–part 2: the objective, practical, important foundations for aging well.

Note: We just sold our home. Need to empty out what’s left beginning today. It’s more of a challenge than moving (which you read about last fall). No longer any internet access so I must go to the library. Life gets in the way when we make plans (and have a regular post-writing schedule). Will  publish part 2 when I can–hopefully by week’s end–so keep checking.