Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Mind is Willing...

It's inevitable. We will all grow old. Unless something happens, an accident or health problem, most of us will age and our bodies will wrinkle, our hearing may go, the eyes need glasses, the bones become brittle... When you look at an old person, I mean really old, like 80+, what do you see? Do you just see an old woman or man, or do you see a person that was once young and vibrant but now old?

My dad had an "old moment" not too long ago. He is 61 which is not really old now that I am 33. Didn't our parents seem old when we were kids? Then as we get older and we are the age our parents were when they had kids, we feel quite young, thank you very much! But anyway, my dad saw a grapefruit just above his head in a tree. He looked at it and felt confident he would be able to jump up and reach it with no trouble. He jumped and missed. He jumped again and stretched his arm out as far as he could and missed again. He tried again and his fingertips grazed against the bottom of the grapefruit. He couldn't get it. His mind said he could do it, but his body wouldn't co-operate. He told me that in his younger days, he would have easily gotten it with a simple jump, but his body will no longer perform that way.

My dad was, to me, the strongest man I have ever known. He was always active and athletic, he was a wrestler in school and danced. Mom told me once that he had a beautiful body, lean and muscular, and he did, too. He tanned easily when he worked outside, and he has a great laugh with wide teeth, the teeth that all his brothers and sisters have, that my sister and cousins inherited and I didn't get. He was a welder and lifted heavy steel and iron and other metal. I helped him once in awhile and he would ask me to hold a bar in place and it took all I had to keep it there, but dad made it look so light. Once, Hubby and I were installing a fence and we used t-bar poles and had to bang it into the ground. Hubby and I struggled and heaved a heavy sledgehammer over and over against the top of the t-bars. It took us all morning and most of the afternoon to hammer in about 20 poles. Dad showed up, and using a blocked off pipe for banging t-bars into the ground, hammered the last 15 in under a hour. We were in awe of my dad's strength.

Now, in the last couple of years or so, my Dad has complained of aches and pains. Past injuries have come back to haunt him. A fall off a ladder more than 25 years ago has come back as lower back and elbow pain. His bad knees crack and pop and he cannot kneel for long periods of time. He had to force himself to retire because he couldn't keep up with welding and contorting his body to fit into awkward places and weld a joint while supporting heavy weight at the same time. He and his wife moved to a warmer climate where the cold doesn't seep into his bones and cause him more pain. He had to give up bowling and then golfing because of the twists the body does while throwing the bowling ball and swinging the golf club.

I heard my dad tell me of his aches and pains but didn't really understand. I sympathized but I didn't empathize. But now, as I age myself and I have a few aches that take longer to fade away than it used to, I take longer to bounce back from a twisted ankle, a bruise lingers, I understand a little bit more about aging. I understand the frustration older people feel, their minds willing but their bodies can't. Or their bodies willing but the mind knows: better not or you're going to pay the price tomorrow. How an older person must feel, their minds still feeling as young as ever, but darn it, if they can't see the newspaper unless they hold it 3 feet away, or that pesky hip that keeps popping out when they dance the two-step. To look in the mirror and see a white-haired old lady staring back, wondering where the young girl went. How did the time fly away so fast and why don't the young 'uns put down their beeping noise-boxes and come and visit? To see their children grow up and away, though some may stay, here but not here.

I don't have any grandparents left, they all died when I was young. I was lucky enough to meet Hubby's Grandmothers but both passed away before we had the girls. I want to make sure that our girls get to know their grandparents, to love being with them and to talk with them. I mean really talk, ask them questions about their own childhoods and what it was like when they had us as kids. I want my girls to have compassion for the older folks and to respect them, treat them with kindness and lend an ear. I admit, I tend to shy away from the older folks, not because I don't want to be around them, but I find it hard to understand gravel-ly voices and I struggle to lip read wrinkled mouths and tooth-less words. I need to find me some old deaf people and get to know them, find out what their lives were like, lend my eyes to their hands, full of stories to tell.


Sparx said...

This is wonderful and so true. I have a cottilerie of old ladies who are my friends (and some are family) and I love talking to them and asking questions. A cousin of mine is 89 and I recently interviewed her about her experiences of childbirth and it was so much fun. For me, because I got to hear more about her and her youth as well as what it was like giving birth 60 or so years ago and for her to talk about stuff that nobody ever asks anymore. Most of my old ladies are still girls, just trapped in their bodies which is the saddest part. I am in some way honoured not just to know them but to get a preview as to what it will be like to age as a woman.

Fabulous post! Thanks.

DJ Kirkby said...

Grandparents are the best. I loved what you wrote and what Sparxs commented.

Blue Yonder said...

Such a nice introduction to your Dad. Thanks for sharing him with us. I've always felt so awkward and quiet around older people, but you are right, they are just people, whose bodies have betrayed them. Toward the end of my great grandmother's life, she couldn't talk anymore, or move really. She would just cry. I can't imagine how it must feel, and hope never to know, to be able to think, but not express yourself. Especially, at a time in your life when you must have so very much to say. I hope I can help my boys be more comfortable around aged people. You know, I heard of a really innovative preschool, where they have older people and young ones together. The idea is that each has something to contribute to the other... energy and youth traded for experience and wisdom. I love that idea.

Lindystar the HOR blogger said...

Jenny sometimes you put out such a post that I don't feel comfortable even commenting on -because I don't have the words to express properly the way you do, and I don't want to sound insincere.

But this time I've got to try. Ahh Jenny I'm 25 and my bio dad is 63, and like you've said in the last few years he's started talking more about aches and pains and slow healing and heavens to betsy ARTHRITIS. And it freaks me out. I feel so wiggly and shifty and inside when he talks about getting older because like your Dad mine has always been so crazy STRONG and manly and bigger than life. I just. I don't know I HATE thinking about it and I never know what to say when he talks about it. I can comiserate or say yeah me too and so I just squirm. Yellow Belly.

Anyways, thanx for this post it makes me feel not alone.

sufferingsummer said...

This is a beautifully expressed coming of age tale. I completely understand as entering my 30's has somehow shed a light on the whole aging process. I do not envy my parent's and don't look forward to the actual physical process myself but I do look forward to gaining the wisdom that seems to come with age. Every Monday morning I go and visit my 90 year old grandmother in her home where she is pretty much home bound. She still lives on her own thanks to my parent's continuous support but her body has almost completely given out on her, she had TB in the 30's and they removed a lung and now her other lung is diseased. She is the strongest wisest person I know and I can't be thankful enough for the few hours a week (that I wish could be so much more) that I am in her presence and she is imparting wisdom to me. Your sentiment is so true and I hope to teach my children the same thing.
Thank you for this post, it is near and dear to my heart.

jenny said...

Sparx-- My mom gave birth 30 years ago and I wouldn't want to go through what she did! I am always asking my mom questions about the past and I'd be doing the same to my grandparents if I still has them! I'm so glad to hear that you have so many connections to the elderly!

DJ-- I only knew my great-grandmother and my grandmother and the only thing I remember about great grandma was a potty mouth. Grandma had some tough times and her end years weren't all that great so we didn't see her much.

Blue Yonder-- It was your post that sparked this one. I can't imagine being your great grandmother and feeling trapped in a body that won't let me talk or do things. If there was a school like that around here, I'd send my kids there! I think I have heard of something like that too. Time to search the internet!

Lindy-- I know exactly what you are talking about-- that uncomfy feeling.. I can relate a little better now to my parents and it makes me more understanding and compassionate. Thanks for sharing how you felt. You did good!! :o)

jenny said...

Summer-- I do feel a bit more encouraged to take better care of myself, so that when I get up there in age, I can, hopefully, be better prepared to do battle with growing old. That's so great that you spend your Monday mornings with your grandmother and I hope you are taking every moment to ask her questions about all sorts of things. I wish I had that chance, and instead I am getting it all out of my mom. I need to spend more time with Hubby's parents and get more info from them to pass on to the girls. Our parents might not be in their 80s or 90s, but it also doesn't mean they will be here tomorrow. Who knows what the future holds, and we need to live the life we have now!