Not my usual blog fare, but for reasons that will become obvious, this has been on my mind a lot.
For the last year I’ve been helping take care of my parents, who are both in their nineties. It’s been a rough year for them. They’re both very weak; they’ve each fallen down several times, and they spent three months of last year in rehab places.
My parents have been married for 71 years, but they have almost comically mismatched personalities. My Dad is an optimist, and he has an engineer’s mindset that every problem can be solved, including medical conditions and the increasing difficulties of everyday life. That’s generally a good thing, except that it also leads to a level of denial about how serious their problems are, or how well the two of them can live on their own.
My Mom is more of a pessimist… she’s had trouble believing that things would get better, and she’s been more annoyed than helped by Dad’s cheerful admonitions. (It’s just as well they mostly can’t hear each other.) A year ago she was spending most of her time in bed. A month in rehab early last year did wonders– at the end she was taking walks up and down the corridors, without a walker. But she just doesn’t like exercise, and she’s very sensitive to aches and pains. To the rest of us it was obvious that she needed more activity, but I think from her point of view it just didn’t make her feel better, so she gave up on it. About three weeks ago she was back to staying in bed most of the day.
Then she got an acute infection, and went into the hospital. Her heart and lungs are very bad, and though she perked up a bit with antibiotics, she just was not getting better. She’s now in hospice care– she came home yesterday, and she is probably not going to last long.
They’ve both had good lives, and I’m thankful that it’s their bodies, not their minds, that have been declining. But even if you’re not obviously sick, the last years of life can be an undending series of losses you have to adjust to. Everyday life, even things like getting dressed or unloading the dishwasher, becomes a set of difficult challenges.
One takeaway from all this: please stay, or get, in shape. By nature I’m highly sedentary, but by now I’m a strong believer in fitness at any age. We expect old people to be feeble– but I think a big part of that is habit. If I get to be their age I’d like to go in with more strength and a habit of exercise.
Also, if it weren’t for my weird little niche in publishing, I wouldn’t be able to spend a couple days of week with them. So if you’ve bought my books, thank you.