Companions on my Journey in the World of Aging

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If I count the beginning of my journey into aging as my 65th birthday when I officially was placed in the demographic “check the over 65” box, then my road has been 32 years long. And what trip into both the known and unknown it has been. I’d seen others make the journey and read a lot about what the road and the territory would be like. But as with any journey, one’s personal road experience is much more vivid, filled with both the expected and surprises.

Sharing the first years of the journey with my husband, our sons and then their wives and daughters made for a secure and joyous experience. The experience of traveling solo, when he died was literally a first for me. It was not that I lacked for support from my family, but the day to day travel was suddenly so different. It took time to learn that I could be “good company” to myself and that solitude could be a positive experience.

Over the years as my ARCs (age related changes) crept in and accumulated, the edges of the world I could travel in also shrank. I became increasingly dependent on fellow travelers coming into my world, rather than my being able to move along on their roads.

And here is where more of aging’s surprises occurred. Companions appeared on the road to walk with me, both in the real and virtual world. I found friendships blooming in both worlds. By now, all of my companions are at least one generation younger than I, many three or four. And my companions turned out to be so thoughtful, generous and often exhilarating.

I’m fortunate that my sons and their families live geographically close. But beyond that, as family and individuals they have remained personally close to the point where we comfortably share parts of our lives, even though they have busy lives of their own. Importantly, they make me feel enjoyed and genuinely, thoughtfully included. What a gift that is!

I’ve also experienced other fellow travelers.   They not only share the journey, but offer so much more.   I have skilled cooks who provide food care packages, a man who keeps my hummingbird feeder cleaned and filled—dead heads the garden and sees other things that need attention, a woman who unfailingly keeps me supplied with library books that suit my reading taste, someone who now does my grocery shopping for me (I still cook-from-scratch). I have a primary care giver who drops over every morning to see “What needs doing?” and smoothly makes that day go well, checks the status of the house and negotiates with contractors for services needed if he can’t fix it—in other words, gives me security. The son and family who travel more have taken me along as a member of the family and make the adaptations needed to permit me to go.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all has been that at 95, professional colleagues from my university reestablished contact with me as an emerita. The result has been my returning to use my brain in ways I wouldn’t have dreamed possible. It started with my dubious venturing into writing this blog,   Then at 96 it bloomed in to participation in a project to further study and utilize the Engaging with Aging approach to daily living with advancing years.   These colleagues not only come to my house for meetings, but bring food as well. Students and faculty have joined me on my journey and have made side excursions possible that I wouldn’t have dreamed of.

At 97 I look back at my trekking in the world of aging and see its surprising twists, turns and challenges.   I cherish and am amazed at the generosity and companionship of those who have offered to walk with me. They’ve not only kept me green and growing but made it a time of unanticipated support, caring, struggle, growth and joy.

For readers who are yet-to-be-ageds, don’t underestimate the value of your sharing the road with those of us who have been on it longer. You enable us to thrive.

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Why My EWA Blog Doesn’t Address Pathology or Trauma-Affected Daily Living

Everyone who survives into the latter years of the lifespan experiences progressing, accumulating ARCs (age related changes) that affect all aspects of their daily living. On top of what’s natural and normal, most will also experience pathology and trauma and the demands of its management. These further affect agers’ requirement in daily living and their resources for managing them.

I came to aging well-armed with book-knowledge about and some experience in caring for people with both normal aging and pathology prevalent in aging. I thought I knew what to expect. And, as far as those expectations went, it was useful. But it was not enough! I’ve been one of the fortunate agers whose health seemed to remain intact. My ARCs emerged, progressed and accumulated, just as the books said they would.   What I haven’t experienced is the overlay of pathology or serious trauma.

Given this background, I found that what I hadn’t learned as an outsider was the reality of ever-present ARC impact on so much of my daily living. I began to live with Hyman Rickover’s insight that “the devil is in the details, but so is the salvation”.   My constellation of ARCs (even in my daily living as a healthy, well supported, super-ager), bedevil me and trip me up throughout each day. I struggle to understand, to learn, to adapt, to work over or around them or eliminate what I can’t manage. As an inside-ager, I’m respectfully gaining new working knowledge daily.

I am realizing that my normal ARCs plus the knowledge I have of them and the skills I have developed in dealing with them are all that I or any other ager “bring to the table” when pathology or trauma add new requirements to daily living and alter my capacities and resources for managing them.

Given my own situation, I feel honest in writing about my insider daily-living-with-my- normal ARCS . I know that this is important and will affect actually living with pathology and its management if or when it occurs. I can only speculate how specific pathologies and their management could:

alter specific capacities I now have

increase/modify the requirements in my daily living

change my relationships with my support figures and external assets.

I also have learned that my relationships with family, care providers and friends are more effective when I neutrally and honestly communicate my EWA status and its impact to them. I expect that this same deliberate transparency should apply in my interaction with those who will help me manage my EWAing with the overlay of pathology and it’s management.   And, since there can be a risk of my losing my thinking/community capacities, I’d be wise to prepare my designated care providers to be able to be my voice in communicating with health care providers if I no longer can. I’m actively doing that.

There’s an old saying that “the shoemaker should stick to his last”. I take it to mean that I should know what I can write about, write it well and not go beyond that.

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So, I leave it to fellow-agers who are actually living with normal ARCs and the overlay of pathologies and their management to share the reality-based, specialized working knowledge and arts they have gained in their own blogs.   And of course your comments on my EWA posts that offer insights of application to your different situations can offer EWA readers and me insights that are useful.

After the Fall was Over – Resilience or ???

Resilience: the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened  –  Merriam-Webster

 an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change – Cambridge Dictionary

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In 1891 Harris wrote a lilting waltz tune about a young man’s disappointment “After the Ball was Over”. The tune came to mind as I was recovering from a recent fall hence the blog title. I haven’t written much about falls, because fortune has favored me with few of them in my decades of aging and none has been more traumatic than leaving me feeling a bit banged up for a time. But I have felt disappointment, even anger, certainly frustration after the fall was over.

My recent fall resulted in minor trauma. But at 97 it was a different experience. By this time my half dozen ARC imps (age related changes) had become my constant companions, poking their noses into many if not most of my daily activities. They seemed to see my fall and slightly banged up state as a great time to create more mischief. My Balance ARC kept me scarily feeling like I might topple over whenever I was upright, particularly when I first rose in the morning. My Strength ARC imp’s tactic was to make it even more difficult for me to rise from sitting to standing and to grasp or manipulate things with my already weakened hands. Stamina’s imp made me head for the recliner after just a small amount of activity and made me feel as if this was the only place to be. My Short Term Memory ARC, as usual (only more so) sneakily bedeviled me with its unpredictability in enabling me to recall information I needed and caused worry that there might be some recall I needed but didn’t even realize. My self-confidence was shaken. And all this with hardly any trauma! My well springs of reserve seemed drained dry and snail-paced at refilling. Now with so much ARC imp mischief, how was I going to be “happy and successful” again, “recover from or adjust easily”?

Well, it appeared I was going to have plenty of time to think about it as I lazed in my recliner.   My long term memory (that seems to be working very well) came up with a Bible verse. “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. . .” (Matthew 26:41). That’s where I was now. Fortunately, I found that I still had spirit, I had blog ideas just waiting to be written, projects in various states—things to think about, things I could do that didn’t take much physical energy or strength. Some of them, I could do sitting at my desk or even making notes in my recliner.   I wanted and needed to recover in the best way possible. I accepted that it might be frustratingly slow, but at least it seemed doable and highly desirable.

Of course it helped immeasurably that family and nearby friends checked in on me by phone and in person, did the few things I needed but couldn’t do. And provided me with salads, soups and easy to fix food. But pacing myself and being satisfied with small gains would be frustrating. I also realized that falls, like having pneumonia, made one more vulnerable for recurrence.   I needed to keep my wits about me, be careful and no hurrying!!!!!!

Days later I realized that falls actually were learning opportunities. I analyzed this last fall and saw that I had broken two of my EWA commandments:

always keep nose and toes in alignment when turning

stop and center consciously before taking that first step after turning (particularly after rising from sitting).

If I were to avoid high risk falls now, I needed to purposefully follow both of these. I needed to avoid hurrying for any reason. I needed to keep my expectations and plans in alignment with my capacities.

Beyond these, I would work on patience, identify small gains and be grateful for them. I’m still green, still growing.

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Enhancers, the “Wind Beneath My Wings”

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Enhance: augment, boost, enrich, heighten

Throughout my life I have been blessed with enhancers. They are people who not only noticed qualities or abilities in me that I didn’t see, but go beyond that. They’ve responded to them.

Some enhancers presented me with opportunities to not only use those abilities, but to foster, heighten and augment them in the process. They’ve showed me doors I could enter. And when I was reluctant, nudged me through them, sometimes even joining me in the adventure. They’ve boosted my self-image, self-assurance and growth. They’ve made me feel valued.

This blog would not have happened but for an enhancer. Someone thought my ideas about aging at 95 were worth sharing. She not only nudged me to blog, but offered a support system. I looked at myself with fresh eyes and began learning how to blog. You see the result.   Months later, a son, made a donation to the school with the requirement that it not only be named after me, but required that I be “connected” with it. A belief that at 96 I could still rise to the new demands that project might create for me. I trust his vision of my abilities and am doing my best to be “connected” to the resultant project. Because two people looked at me and my capacities and thought they could be enhanced, my life changed remarkably in my mid-90’s.

Lately I’ve been thinking more about these enhancing behaviors I had experienced, I’ve tried to take them apart and look at them more closely.   It seemed to start with someone noticing and genuinely responding to some quality or capacity in me at whatever level it existed and that triggered a belief that there was something in me that I could enhance.

Then I began to pay more attention to what was happening in less-dramatic, everyday contacts with others that resulted in my feeling enhanced in one way or another.  I recognized that I felt enhanced when people seemed to enjoy something about me. That enjoyment made me feel more secure and capable. The behaviors that triggered my feeling enhanced were those of genuine engagement, even intrigued demeanor (in contrast to patronizing or tolerating attitudes). Questions were linked to exploring what I’d been talking about.   Offers of a different “wrinkle” to an idea I had. Genuinely sharing my concerns without immediately proffering advice. Offering unexpectedly what a former dean of mine called a “warm fuzzy”— a compliment or positive feedback supported by data.   Enhancing, I saw, could be generated by a host of tiny, subtle verbal and nonverbal quiet behaviors.

My responses to enhancing encounters included: trusting myself enough to take on new situations, to take on sometimes uncomfortable new situations.   More frequently in everyday contacts it was confidence-building or feelings of closeness and comfort. Either way, enhancers became welcome “winds beneath my wings” that caused me to feel more like I was soaring, a little or a lot. And certainly in this time of serious aging, soaring is both rare and welcome.

 

Wind Beneath My Wings song Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley, 1982

Two Different Rivers of Aging

This week’s blog post is made up of three poems written by one of my first blog readers who also provided a comment. We became e-friends sharing the similarities and differences of our lives and our Engaging with Aging. We both worked in the health care field, but in very different ways. She is a young ager, I am old. We both share multiple challenges in our daily living. I with the accumulation and progression of my normal ARCs (age related changes); she with those deriving from painful, progressing peripheral neuropathy.

We both enjoy writing, but she has talents in the art of poetry while I am limited to prose. In this blog posting she has agreed to share three of her poems with EWA’s readers. They each resonate with me and I hope they will with you. Do send your comments to let us know.

Houseboat
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This boat I’m living in
keeps springing leaks,
one hole after another.
I patch one and another
appears, almost immediately.
Meanwhile, I try to keep
the boat dry:
patch, bail, patch, bail…
I’m working as fast as
I can, but I fear we’re
sinking…

 

The Hoarder
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Moving like a habitual hoarder
along a narrow space; bounded by
stacks and stacks of old thoughts,
old ideas, old plans, old ways of
coping. One false move and it
will all tumble, bury me in rubble.
Why do I save this old debris?
Call in the dump truck!
Haul it all out!

Make room for the new!

 

Movement
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If there is movement
there can be
improvement.

These days my body
doesn’t care to move fast.

I only hurry when
jumping
to conclusions.

Must practice patience.

 

Julia Helen Tracy

Help Has Several Faces

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Throughout my life I’ve been involved in helping and being helped. In earlier times I tended to take help more for granted. As a child I received help, some I wanted, some I didn’t. As a nursing student and RN I learned to offer purposeful specific health related types of help. It was what nurses did. As a teacher I learned ways to help my students. In familial and social relationships, I learned other approaches. From all of them I learned about the give and take of different helping relationships, somewhat as a matter of course.

Then came the time and experience of aging where my prevailing situation has become more often that of being the one in need of help, with only limited capacities and resources for helping others or even reciprocating to those who help me. Engaging with this helping element of aging led me to start looking at the basics of this helping business.

I began to see helping as consisting of three options: doing to, doing for and doing with. I looked for examples of each in my daily and found them.

I thought of those whose help involved doing to me.

I consult and use professionals to manage my physical health, e.g. the dentist, dental hygienist and physician who diagnose and prescribe and at times do to me, the pedicurist who keeps my (now distant) toes and feet in shape. Since I take the initiative in consulting them and the extent to which I follow up on their proposals, I still have some options. But I can readily foresee situations and institutionalizations in which the doing to will be increasingly extensive and out of my control.

The next “doing to” is less obvious. These examples involve those who knowingly or unknowingly communicate words and behavior that “do to” my mental and emotional status for good or ill.   But thus far, I sense that I do have some choices in how I use that input. (See Data are Neutral, My Reactions are Not 4/24/19, and Words Make a Difference 5/29/19)

Real, but even harder to detect, is the doing to by known and unknown people, businesses and institutions whose way of functioning or business model includes sharing information about me or purposefully invading my privacy with or without privacy forms (whose language is often so arcane and obfuscating that it’s hard to know what one is signing). They do to me without my knowledge.

I see doing for me as involving help that takes the place of what I would/might wish to do for myself.

Usually it occurs after learning what I need or want, but occasionally is based on what the helper thinks might be best for me. Sometimes it has been helping me to look at situations through “fresh eyes”.   And then there are people doing for me in ways that go beyond what I might have wished for, or even thought possible. And such thoughtfulness is as much a gift as the gift itself.

Finally, there is doing with.

This involves mutual engagement.   Here each of us has a sense of gains in the helping activity. The result feels greater than the “sum of the parts”. I’ll have to admit this is the most satisfying kind of helping I experience as helper or helped.

I find that each type of helping has its place.   Being an EWA-ing help recipient demands that I:

seek help appropriately in terms of when each type is most useful and desired

recognize the type of help that is being afford and respond accordingly

provide helpers with data and information to enable them offer help in ways that are most effective, efficient and satisfying to us both.

Putting One’s Best Foot Forward In a Different Way

From the time my sister and I were very little, mother taught us by word and deed about the need to “put our best foot forward” when we had guests or were guests (though she didn’t use those words). We were taught how to use eating utensils, table manners, greet people and manners in general. As I look back on it, I remember our home as usually neat and clean, but it needed to be especially so when guests were invited. Mother was a good Swedish cook and knew how to prepare a delicious, attractive meal and serve it well. As my sister and I grew up and started families of our own, we tended to continue what we had been taught and enjoyed doing it. It all was unquestionably friendly, but had a certain degree of formality to it.

Fast forward to the present. Aging has not only moved in, but has gradually taken over my capacities to put my best foot forward. My standards and efforts are the same. The friendliness is as present as ever, but formality and execution have flown out the window. I still can set a table, have everything set up and arrange for beverages, but prepare and serve a meal? No way! So guests tend to come bearing food. Once here, everyone pitches in, chaos occasionally reigns.   Service may be buffet style with guests serving themselves from a counter in the kitchen and returning there for “seconds”. And they usually want to help with the cleanup, though I’m still capable of doing the dishes. The casual comradery seems to feel as good to everyone as the genteel service of earlier years.

I don’t go out much for meals, but even at home I may need assistance in serving myself and cutting things into bite size pieces. Once I got over my shyness about this and could accept it neutrally as “this is what it is”, no one else seems to mind at all. As someone once told me, “No use getting your knickers in a knot over it.” So I’m learning to accept who and what I am on any given day, and others do too, thank goodness!

I also look back on my days as a nursing student in a hospital based program where much of our learning took place as we cared for patients for hours each day, and later when I worked as a nurse and head nurse on hospital wards. It seemed to me that patients perked up and tended to want to put their best foot forward when the doctors were making their rounds. And I too on my infrequent doctor visits find myself wanting to do the same.

Still, what’s important for both doctor and patient, or any other care provider and recipient is an honest encounter where accurate data on the actual status becomes available. Putting our best foot forward in this situation now would seem to be preparing ourselves (as our capacities permit) to provide/communicate accurate data on our status in relevant areas rather than try to be seen “at our best”.

In my last checkup visit with the doctor, I had written out a list of my current ARCs so I could quickly, sharply present them (and, in case my short term memory lapses kicked in). After he had asked his questions and done his inspection, I asked if he was interested in the status of my age related changes. He was. I brought out my list, explained why I had one, provided data on each ARC’s status. He asked questions and made notations. He had important data he would not have had if I had not prepared and taken the initiative. I felt I’d put my best foot forward in a new way.

So, I’m learning new best-foot-forward lessons. It’s still fine to try to be the best I can be, but it’s in a new way where it’s truly important to be who and what I currently am, warts and all.

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