Growing old is not for the wimpy, the weak, or whiny. Aging is tough. It steals your dreams and ambitions and saps your energy. It is simply stinking hard work.
I don’t know how my mom has lived through it. She is 88 years young, and suffers from severe osteoarthritis. She’s had two new knees and a hip, and is way overdo for more. But alas, a few years ago she aged out. A victim of the system, she was passed off again and again, told to come back next year – that her pain was simply bursitis. Never mind that the arthritis that was the root cause of it. Month long waits for calls simply to make appointments seeped into more weeks, then months before even being called to get on the list for an appointment. Slowly, painfully, the time leached into two years before she even was taken seriously for a replacement. But by then it was too late. She was too old and too weak. Those years of inactivity lead to extra weight, and more joint problems exasperated by the extra burden. Soon high blood pressure reared its ugly head and she was doomed to an endless cycle of “You’re not quite bad enough yet. Come back in 6 months and we’ll see if you are ready. Although the doctors never came out and said a flat out “no”, we all knew she was being passed over. That her quality of life was measured by standards of statistics and numbers – that younger patients would get priority in an over-stressed health care system inundated with again boomers and their parents. Now, well over 10 years later the new hip is now old, the other hip is totally shot, and the knees are due for updates. She is left with increasing low back pain, a horrible lop-sided limp that creates even more imbalances and pain, and no hope for any real relief.
Yet every day she gets up, plans what she will make for dinner, does some cleaning around the house, and takes part in her many volunteer activities. She still drives the ladies to the monthly CNIB meeting, making sure they all get at least one outing each month. She takes part in CWL activities, making phone calls to organize things when she can’t actually do the physical work anymore. This year she sent out almost 100 Christmas cards. She checks her Facebook regularly on her “gadget” – the Samsung tablet we bought her last year. She still makes family dinners – and would not hesitate to prepare something for anyone who stopped by. Each day the arthritis robs a little more of her body, but never her spirit. I rarely hear her complain. When she does, I know she must be in agony, 0r she wouldn’t say a word.
I want to have her spirit, but not her arthritis, when I “grow old”. But I don’t think I can grow old as gracefully as her. I don’t think I will have the stamina to tolerate the pain, the hopelessness, and the slow, ebbing away of my body. I already feel somewhat hopeless. I know I have to downsize my grand adventure dreams to smaller, simpler goals such as making sure I exercise every day so I can face a set of stairs without fear. So much for hopes of long, glorious hikes in the mountains. My goals will now be a casual, relatively painless walk around our property.
Perhaps this is the adventure of aging – learning to accept the outwardly small accomplishments that are actually extremely monumental. Mom’s daily journey in life is far more brave than any extreme athlete who strives to climb to the top of a mountain peak, or the runner who just completed an ultra marathon. I am starting to believe that making dinner for a large family, or completing daily household tasks, or some days, simply getting out of bed when you hurt so bad that all you want to do is stay asleep. Or putting on a smile and not whining all day long about every ache and pain. Yep, I am starting to re-define strength, courage, and physical stamina.
Right now I say the words, but am not sure I have fully accepted this new reality. But I’m trying. Today, while taking part in my curling game I began to realize that I need to cherish each time I am able to slide down the ice, or throw a rock from the hack and come slightly close to making my shot. Pretty soon the arthritic pain I feel from activity will become greater than the benefit I get from curling – or other sports. So, I need to learn to take each stride for what its worth. Let my body learn to remember the feeling of gliding across the ice, of being part of a team success – of just being active. You never know when it will all evaporate.
So here’s to you, Mom. You have taught me that growing old is not for the weak of heart. May I have even a tenth of your strength and courage as I travel down the toughest adventure ever -growing old.