Thursday, February 10, 2005

Getting old is NOT for sissies

10 February 2005

The passing of my mother-in-law Louise Schwartz has reminded me of something I either read -- or was told -- several times in the last few years: getting old is NOT for sissies. As the old age ailments stack up, the pain level, the infirmity, the damned indignity all coalesce and suddenly there you are sitting virtually immobile, (unless you get assistance), uncomfortable (if not really hurting) and wondering what-the-hell happened to the 25-year-old inside of you who was immortal.

In the last few years, Louise kept kicking right to the end, even taking a trip to Florida to visit her son Dan and daughter-in-law Diane. Coming back, her health woes caught up with her like a fast-moving freight train and she was looking down the barrel of permanently moving into what we used to call an old folks' home. Now it's called assisted living.

But even at that, she was working on breaking out (with her sister-in-law, Fran) and moving back to her small apartment that overlooked Seneca Lake.

Louise's brother Erwin (pictured with this blog) spends his days at what we used to call a nursing home that's part of the big hospital, bound pretty much to a little golf cart sort of thing that lets him get around. I won't go into all the maladies he's dealing with, but after a lifetime of being a physically active fellow, the lack of mobility and pain are tough for his family to witness.

His mind, however, is as sharp as can be and this trip Sylvia and I quizzed him about family history, finding out, among other things, that the Beardslee clan arrived in America in 1635. Erwin still loves to spin tales and his memory of things that happened when he and Louise were children is amazing.

We sat with Erwin and three other fellows while they had their 'dinners' -- institutional fare including the required jello substance. (Do you know what jello is made from? Best not to know.) Erwin's table mates had difficulty speaking; one slid his false teeth in and out because they were hurting, he said. Another has severe Parkinson's disease and struggled to chomp on a piece of pizza that was smuggled in by a friend.

But when we got ready to leave I remembered a movie with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster called 'Tough Guys,' in which Lancaster -- at an assisted living facility -- confronts the nurses and the orderlies and says, 'We wants steaks, we want chops, we want real food.'

I recited that line to the table of four, adding that they might demand 'real pizza' which would be a little easier on their teeth.

I got a hearty laugh from all four of them, proving that while their bodies might be infirm, their minds are still working just fine.

And it also shows, they're no sissies.


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