Thoughts on Becoming 99

Looking back over the 99 years, the digits of the year appeared to be less important than what was happening or what the number made possible. “Sweet 16” was memorable because my mother planned a surprise party that I messed up by coming home early from school looking truly bedraggled with a high fever and sore throat. I heard the party in the living room beneath my upstairs bedroom. “21” seemed important as a number because, having passed the two-day state nursing licensure exam, I became a licensed RN. I also registered to vote. “60” was important because the state legislature made it financially advantageous to take early retirement and “65” because I could get Medicare. “83” is vivid because that year my husband died. The other year numbers just came and went, some with celebrations of their arrival and others without.

So why does 99 seem more symbolic than any of the other 98 birthdays? I’ve no idea. It isn’t as if it was anything I’d been striving toward. It just happened. With the pandemic, there’ll be no party just virtual and socially distant short contacts. (I did receive a Kudo board from present and earlier colleagues that amazed and overwhelmingly delighted me).  

Now that it’s arrived, my thoughts seem to be focusing on how to spend the upcoming time. Two underlying themes promptly presented themselves. I’d seen my parents, my mother-in-law, my sister, her husband and my husband each facing this situation under differing circumstances and in different ways. But the common characteristics in the way they lived out the final segment of their lives were gratitude and grace despite vicissitudes.  Now it’s my turn and that’s what I want too.

As I began thinking about gratitude, a verse of a hymn from my earliest years sang in my brain.

“Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace within
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity
!”  Storm1895, Hultman 1910

When I looked it up I was not surprised to learn the words were penned by a member of the Swedish Salvation Army (Frälsning’s Armen). (It was my dad’s religious affiliation in his younger years and even I had some contact with the local Swedish branch as a child.) The melody was created years later by another Swede.

Being grateful hasn’t yet posed any challenges for me either in good or hard times. It seems to have been important in my nurturing and perhaps also my nature. I doubt it will change. Still, looking for elements to be consciously grateful for will be something I will do.

Aging with grace? Now that’s something else. I had only the fuzziest of ideas on what grace was. Knew it when I saw it, but describe it?  No. Various computer entries suggest that it is a seemingly effortless flowing quality of being unruffled, agile, appropriate, and considerate of others.  (It also suggested elegance and beauty, but those seemed beyond my realm.)

Well, I and my river of aging certainly have been flowing over the changing riverbed of environmental and age related changes (ARCs). We’ve flowed over and around external obstacles of change (both positive and adversarial). When we’ve encountered obstacles, sometimes we got ruffled and created white water as we encountered them, but then settled back to a calm flow.

Currently aging and daily living are flowing quietly, in part because of the pandemic and its isolation and despite the disruptive political mayhem that threatens everyone’s wellbeing.

With the remembering and pondering evoked by  writing this blog posting , I’ll have more awareness  of seeking to live each day with gratitude and  grace as I wend my way to the sea.  

Credibility and Trustworthiness in Aging

Credibility: believability reliability, integrity, authority, standing

Trustworthiness: belief in, confidence in, reliability, dependability

We’ve lived with trustworthiness and credibility experiences throughout our lives. In our earliest years, our lives depended on the trustworthiness of those who cared for us. As we were maturing we began to learn that trust and credibility were two way streets; that we would be judged on our trustworthiness and credibility as surely as we needed to judge others. Eventually we’d learn that both credibility and trust have to be earned; and once lost, were harder to regain. On the other side of the coin, we discovered how important it was to learn who and what to trust and believe.

I learned about trust and credibility rather subtly. Each parent approached it differently. My father offered trust. At some level I realized this, valued it and shaped my behavior to merit it. My mother’s approach was verify then trust and behaved in terms of her expectations because it brought more comfortable outcomes. I came to realize that each approach had merit and that their trust was earned on an ongoing basis. Each of them seemed to me to be dependably trustworthy.

With both young and old, trust and credibility are much more conditional than in adulthood, and with good reason. With the young, the maturity of their capacities factor into what can be expected. With old people, age related changes (ARCs) have altered capacities including mental capacities. Take my situation. Others may justifiably think, “Better be dubious about this one; she’s 99”.

Gaps between the truster and the person being trusted can widen subtly or openly. And with lack of credibility and trust or outright mistrust, relationships change in ways that can be important.

Judicious dubiousness has come to seem highly appropriate. As a 99 year-old who has grasped and accepted that, I’m tending to feel that it’s in my best interest to  provide evidence of  my capabilities and limitations  rather than ”get on my high horse” and be offended when I encounter doubt.

 I’m also realizing that I, like every other person), have blind spots that shouldn’t be ignored.

With this reality and knowing that many are afraid of offending, I’ve asked selected others to help me by telling me what they’re seeing. And, there’s the reality that most of the people I relate to are YTBes (yet to be elderly), outsiders to the world of the elderly. There’s no reason to expect them to see through my aged eyes.

With these insights I soon recognized that giving useable evidence of my ARCs and ways of engaging with aging required skill!  It’s taking  a surprising amount of thinking and rehearsal. As a starting point, it’s required as much honesty and self-knowledge as I can muster.

Turning my evidence into words and numbers came next. That’s hard too. I began to think about my “audiences”. I know I speak differently to a doctor, a neighbor,  an adult or a child, use different words, demeanor and tone of voice. 

Well, actors and other performers know this. consider the audiences and  constantly fine-tune their skills to give them the needed flexibility.

I’ve got time and imagination.There’s no risk in thinking and trying out  words and style  in planning for those with whom I may need to share. Besides, it beats being bored!

It’s hard to consider the real possibility that at some point ARCs may disable my mental capacities to the point that I can’t handle this complex task. But it can happen!

To that end,  I’m trying to keep my children abreast of what’s going on with me so they can speak for me if needed. It’s an insurance policy I’m creating with hopes it won’t be needed.

Like so much of aging, trust and credibility are what they are: no more, no less.Threats to them generate emotions in us. But with further reflection,  many of us can handle this developmental task of advancing years  as an expected part of this business of being old.   

Perhaps we even can help YTBes explore and reexamine their own views on ways to safely engage with older folks in terms of mutual credibility and trustworthiness.

An Ager’s Version of “Putting One’s Best Foot Forward”

As a child, I was taught by my parents and others, even age-mates, that there were several levels of behavior and types of clothing to go with each one. There was:

everyday give and take of at-home and playground behavior where we all wore casual, well-worn clothing,

school behavior that had different rules and expectations from parents, teachers and age-mates. My clothing was durable, good fitting and appropriate to the fashions of the times.

company behavior which meant being on one’s best behavior, “minding one’s manners”. My clothing was my “best” or Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. (In those days for both young and old it meant hat, gloves and pocket book for females and  for males suits and ties).

Somehow those embedded  childhood values and behaviors  continued to guide my behavior and expectations. In adulthood,  my social and work situations continued to reward appropriate dress and behavior, further  supporting and evolving  them as times changed.

It should come as no surprise that when normal age relate changes  (ARCs) arrived on the scene,  and particularly as they progressed, I still felt the need to put whatever best foot  forward I had available to when  presenting  myself to others. It was holding true whether they were family, friends, health care providers or care takers.  Somehow it felt “wrong”  to display the parts that weren’t so good, or were frankly embarrassing to me.

And here’s where the “this is my current 100% and it’s 100% for what and who I am now” eventually came into play. I came to accept and own the perception that anyone’s 100% at any given point in time was and is what one had to work with  at 2 ,42 or 8,2, sick or well. It was what I could offer in putting my “best foot forward”.

Taking ownership of the 100% that was me at any given point in my aging, gave me newfound freedom.  No shame in revealing  what I could and couldn’t  do with my  available 100%. The only current  constraint is that the 100% of my short term memory might affect what I could remember and the   words and  capacities available to communicate.  So information on this becomes a part of the foot forward activity.  In addition to capacities I also occasionally have found it relevant to share what I would, wouldn’t or was unlikely to do in a given situation.  Why let others expect  or prescribe behavior one can’t for a variety or reasons or is not likely to do?  Negotiating for what can and would be done seems more honest, economical and time saving.

At times it’s been  possible to put my foot forward with humor. (Aging does present remarkably ridiculous experiences that can be funny, in retrospect.)  Most  often  the approach has been a neutral one.  And sometimes I’m truly serious,  perhaps even sad.  But with whatever the style of presentation.  the foot put forward is real.

As hostess or guest, it’s no longer possible to take on what I once would have considered “company manners”. My best foot has to be just what I am and can do at that time.

 People have been remarkably accepting of this “everyone pitches in” casual approach.  

Whether In the  institutional, clinic or day to day home experiences, this best- foot- forward version has been resulting in others’ responses that incorporate  whatever seems possible/reasonable to them.

In my first encounter with the occupational therapist after my forearm facture had been encased in full arm splint, e.g.

I asked her to please help me wash my other hand.  Her response was, “Why don’t you try doing it yourself.”  I could and did, awkwardly.  I learned, “Try first, then ask if needed”. “Try first” became  a new best foot forward that proved applicable to a remarkable number of varying  situations.

My experience with this 100% best foot forward framework tends to be a functional way to achieve, satisfying relationships, assistance and health care. What’s your experience?