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Oct 25

Change: Youth to Old Age

In Brief—The author’s view and experiences of vibrant youth and the reality of the passage of time and arrival of old age.

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Is This the Wisdom that was Promised?—

As I wheel my walker past the aged, bent and white-haired old women sitting quietly in the sun behind their own walkers, I often wonder what they were like sixty years ago. Did they think of themselves as attractive? Were they active? Were they vital and aware? But then I reflect on how Father Time has afflicted me with my own wrinkles, my thin parchment-like skin, my grey hair and shuffling gait. How have so many years raced past without being noticed? The others probably feel the same way.

Every morning after struggling through my customary routine, I pause in opening the blinds to admire the photograph of my wife as she looked in 1980. Beautiful with smooth skin, sparkling eyes and full lips curved in that small smile that belied the tragic loss of her mother at far too young an age.

Now she comes to visit me at what I refer to as the Old Folks’ Home. Though still lovely, she shows the passage of the years too quickly gone. I notice the emergent wrinkles around those sparkling eyes that now need glasses. I notice the lines that have deepened beside that warming smile, the small sags of once-firm muscles. The love-of-my-life is showing the same signs that affect all of us who have managed to survive what life has brought us. And shining through it all is what we call “love” without really being able to define it.

The Old Folks’ Home—

Old Folks' Home

Old Folks’ Home

The building is relatively new. The apartments are fresh and spacious enough for their physically-limited occupants. The apartments are furnished by the residents or their families to assure that a measure of the comfort of home is assured. The staff is friendly and helpful. The two regular nurses are occasionally seen albeit one is bull-headed and too impressed with her education. The staff is learning how to feed someone through a tube while also feeding the other residents in the customary fashion.

The residents are mostly women and range in age between 75 and perhaps slightly over 90. Some suffer—if that is the right word—from various stages of dementia. All are simply old. “Warehousing” comes readily to mind. Comfortable Swedish warehousing, but still separate and apart from society. Maybe that is the future of advanced societies.

A Typical Day—

What is a day in the Old Folks’ Home like? Most of the residents stay in their rooms. Some of them—even a couple of the dementia patients—sit in the dayroom and watch TV or eat there at meal times. Particularly if the sun is shining or it’s not raining, a few of the residents will sit in the sun, others may get some exercise behind their walkers, as I do. A few may pick and eat the seasonal black currant berries growing on the bushes at the back of the spacious yard. I used to love the taste of black currants, but inability to swallow put the cork in that bottle. The ones outdoors seem to be the same residents every time I’m out exercising. The ones watching TV seem to be a separate small group, but since my hearing is lousy and the shows are usually inane, I’m not one of that group.

I can’t say what goes on outside my closed door each day, but I can report on my activities. Much of the time, I sit at the computer reading the news, emailing friends, writing blog pieces or reading courtesy of an informed friend who feeds my obsession and my Kindle. Composing and writing blog pieces is occasionally harder as my memory sometimes misses a beat, but sometimes the words flow like a river after a hard rain. It helps to think while I’m lying quietly on my narrow bed while being fed.

My wife and the family Sheltie visit often, the latter gladly accepting the scratches of staff and residents, the former lighting the lives of all in the corridor. I happily accept the love and latest news. Gone from once familiar surroundings but not from the heart. They don’t visit every day, but often enough. The other residents and staff haven’t complained yet about the barking as the dog retrieves the ball I toss. I suspect they may even enjoy the change.

That’s life in the Old Folks’ Home. And as always, the one unchanging thing in the universe is change.

12 comments

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  1. Art Ulene

    Don….. I don’t see the wrinkles. I never see the wrinkles. But today, especially, the picture that comes to mind is of that young, handsome guy who stood up for honesty and integrity in programming and advertising, the charming guy whom everyone respected and admired. Damn, I wish I lived closer to you. I’d be over to visit today. Just want you to know that you still mean a lot to me. Art

    1. Don Bay

      I appreciate the warm words. Really! I fell short a lot of the time, but I worked hard to be as honest as I knew how. The hardest part is being honest with myself.

      I try to ignore the wrinkles, but they’re still there every morning. In any case, I count myself lucky to have had you in my life. And there’s still time to accomplish something. Not a lot, but I do what I can to make life a tad easier for everybody. Onward and upward.

  2. Dave Meyers

    Well, your description is, as I’m sure your intended it to be, a bit grim. But as Art says, I can only see you as I remember you then. And, that’s the way I will always remember you. As I push the seventy mark, I can only remember myself as a vibrant young whipper-snapper too. Aren’t we all about 18 years old behind our eyes? I think that’s part of the design…..it eases the discomfort of reality.
    As you wonder what those around you may have experienced, you can rest assured that you have bested them in the adventure and experience category. They don’t have a clue!
    This journey called life is a wonder. To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it’s been”. And all the twists and turns along the way can not be avoided. We take them in and do the best that we can….because we have no choice.

    1. Don Bay

      We can remember that other person as we last saw him/her. Fortunately, you and Marilyn are good with a camera, so you all are keeping me up-to-date. And I must say, you are aging gracefully. Not the dark-haired guy at the KEMFABTEC gathering, but much the same today.

      And it ain’t all grim. There’s still a road ahead, so we still have time to make our mark. Let’s do the best we can, brother.

  3. Jim Newton

    And old age comes to each person individually, some healthier, happier, more engaged, more loved, surrounded by more friends and on and on. I just read “Still Alice” about a woman in her early fifties, a Harvard professor who has early onset Alzheimers, and my wife and I spent lots of time talking about it, partly because she thought 15 years ago that I was developing dementia which never actually happened, It was the effects of a medication I was taking and we realized that was the problem, and I stopped it. But it gave us another look into one of aging’s most feared disabilities.

    A family member is 97, is on no medication, lives alone by choice, goes out on her scooter, and is a grump. We each face our own circumstances and we each react to them in our own way. You have ended up with some severe restrictions and you keep thinking and talking and blogging. You could be sitting at the TV all day every day, and worse, you could be watching meaningless drivel.

    I don’t know the proper set of words here. Keep on truckin seems kind of off point. But keep on thinking and sharing those thoughts. It helps folks like me, also in our 80s, to do the same.

    1. Don Bay

      I appreciate the supportive words as well as some revealing history. After years of feeling I was contributing something worthwhile to society such as you have, somehow sitting in front of a computer in the Old Folks’ Home and blogging seems less a contribution than shouting into a rain barrel. I hope my words have a positive impact in a world that is both technologically advanced and going crazy (at least in my eyes). I have occasionally said that even if I influence one person, I will have accomplished something, but more often these days it feels like self-indulgence. At least the computer gives me something to do with my days. Still and all, you and Chris are out there making a difference where it’s needed. That’s what counts.

      1. Jim Newton

        Wait a minute. During the American invasion of Vietnam I was: a) doing mostly nothing but moaning about the war and b) working for the military-industrial complex building ICBMs. Meanwhile, you were fighting the war and actually stopping the draft.

        Now you are at least fighting against injustice with your words and I’m volunteering in South Africa to stop HIV infection and violence against women. We’ve sort of reversed roles through no fault of your own and you’re the one who’s done the most overall.

        1. Don Bay

          Thanks for the shout-out. What sticks in my craw these days is the helplessness I feel at not doing more than writing in a limited little blog. The fire is there, but I miss not doing more. You and Chris inspire me…you and a few other friends. Keep it up as long as you can…all of you. I’ll keep cranking out my blog in the hope that others will be inspired to act. I guess I’m just feeling frustrated. I appreciate the Dutch Uncle talk.

  4. Brenda

    Have you ever read the story “Look at me – I was like you once” telling the story of one looking at those around and asking telling them in their memory, “Look at me, I was once like you.”
    I laughed and ran and played, I went shopping for instyle clothes, I loved, and so on and so on. I used to publish this often for my seniors when I was in charge of the senior program while in my younger years. Their love of this story brought so much to them.

    One must recognize that we were once like them. If we an accept and see the beauty in aging and know that we were a part of what they are able to enjoy in life today, we should have a great satisfaction.

    You are a very handsome, intelligent man who has given much to those around you and continue to do so. Keep up the caring. (And keep throwing the ball to Millie–I’m sure everyone actually loves the barking.

    1. Don Bay

      You hit the nail on the head. I look at the youngsters and think, “Someday, you’ll be old and wonder where all those years went.” Best not to waste a moment…we are all building the structure we will leave behind, so make it a strong structure with integrity.

      And Millie’s barking worries Ewa: too noisy. But it’s just enthusiasm for the next ball…and the next. I wish we all had that enthusiasm. BTW, thanks for the warm words.

  5. Donna Boe

    I’m a little uncomfortable seeing others comments and thinking of my own comments in print. Yet, I enjoy reading what your other readers/friends are saying and thinking. Do you ever get a response from someone you don’t know? It would probably have to be a political issue to have that result.
    You sound comfortable in you Swedish apartment, and I’m happy to see that Ewa and Millie visit you often. I’m so grateful that your brain and writing and reading abilities are still so sharp , and also that you are exercising -outdoors when possible.
    Roger has had some serious health problems this year, enough to make me realize that we are not immortal, and that’s scary. I count on him as someone to talk with and bounce ideas off of. He is much better now, but we both realize that working in a place like Kenya will no longer be an option. Even international travel may not be part of our future.
    I try to keep active, but am slower and tire more easily than before. My memory doesn’t always perform like I’d like either. We are lucky to live in a small city and to know many of the residents here. After 50 years, we are pretty good at net working and organizing, even though it’s sometimes hard to see the results.
    So, we are all aging, all getting wrinkles, all getting slower – but as long as we can still make a difference, (and you do, Don, through your writing) I’m content.

    1. Don Bay

      Thanks for the kind words. I’ll keep cranking out the blog pieces as long as the brain keeps holding up. I really appreciate your comments. Keep them coming whenever the mood strikes.

      I’m genuinely sorry to learn that Roger has had more than his share of ill-health, but I’m glad that he has it behind him now. Fingers crossed both of you stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

      Some of my readers are people I don’t know. Their interest has varied, but religion is often the subject. I recognize that my politics may not match their own, but the world would be a boring place if we agreed on everything. I hope they will feel free to let me know how they feel about what I have said.

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