The Oldest Old Project: Naomi Royer
This Week in Elder News: 4 October 2008

The Oldest Old Project: Mort Reichek

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am out of town for several days this week. In my absence, are stories from five elders and/or bloggers who have contributed to what I am calling The Oldest Old Project. They had to be at least 80 to participate and I asked how their lives had changed in the 20 or more years since they were 60. Today, Mort Reichek, who blogs at Octogenarian]

Many years ago, The New Yorker magazine published a cartoon showing a man reading a page in a newspaper headlined “Obituaries.” Beneath the main headline were sub-heads reading “Same age as mine,” “Older than me,” and “Younger than me.” The man had a studious expression on his face as he obviously compared himself to the three categories in which the deceased fitted.

During my 60s and 70s, I also carefully read The New York Times obits, making the same comparisons between myself and the deceased. I was saddened about those my age and younger - senior citizens the gerontologists regard as the "young old." I was comforted, however, to learn about those who had survived to more advanced years and had become "old old."

Now that I am about to turn 84 in November, I read the obits and feel fortunate that I have lived long enough to have qualified for "old old" status. And I recognize that my views and behavior are becoming markedly different from the "young old."

I'm not proud of it, but I’ve become less tolerant. I scorn much of the contemporary art scene - music, the theater, films - finding the works so inferior to what I enjoyed as a younger man.

I’ve become more indecisive about the most trivial matters. I often cannot make up my mind about what shirt to wear after I awaken each day. I struggle as I decide what to do first. Should I go shopping or stay home and read or take a walk? What's more important, to see a doctor about some new ache and pain or to take my car for maintenance at the service station?

These are, for me, mind-boggling decisions that have to be made. But at least I'm spared from solving the national fiscal crisis.

I’ve lost my confidence in the medical profession, although I’ve had successful surgery to replace my aortic heart valve and my right hip. But I’m reluctant to call a doctor for every ache and pain. I’m dubious about the doctors’ ability to help someone my age and fear that I’ll be ordered to have an uncomfortable examination and procedure that really won't help me.

I now seem to regard physical comfort as the most important element in my life, a fact that really distresses me. I’ve always had an active social life, eager to go to concerts, the theater, art shows and the like. Since having open-heart surgery about six years ago, however, I become more of a home-body because I frequently feel fatigued even though I've not engaged in any strenuous activity.

I have become less enthusiastic about going out and driving long distances, particularly at night, much to the distress of my wife. But I have not become a social recluse. I still enjoy socializing with neighbors and friends (as long as they don't live too far away).

As an old old man, I am most disturbed that I find myself questioning whether I really had the talent to do what I did as a journalist for 40 years. I study the hundreds of clippings of articles that I wrote decades ago and cannot believe that I actually produced the stuff. Was I faking it, I ask myself. I feel relieved that I am no longer called upon to handle the tough, professional demands that I once faced.

I observe what some journalists are now being called to do - covering the war, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan under fire - and I wonder whether I would have been able to handle such assignments.

The issue is particularly relevant to me because I covered the Pentagon as a reporter in the 1950s and early 1960s during the non-shooting cold war years, and there was no call for me to become a war correspondent. (My wartime experiences were as an 18-21 year old soldier in India during World War II.)

For 23 years, I have lived in a community restricted to residents who are at least 55; younger spouses, however, are allowed. I was 61 and still working when I moved in. (I retired nearly three years later.) For years I played tennis, traveled with my wife, and took advantage of all the leisure activities available for the residents.

I am now too weary to do much of that. I enviously look upon the younger residents as they enjoy so many of those activities in which I no longer participate. And that's where the distinction between the just "old" people and the "old old" becomes dramatically evident.

I see a social schism developing between the two groups of elderly neighbors. The community has a clubhouse in which dances are held and professional entertainers perform. The cultural tastes differ markedly between the two generations living in what has been advertised as “an active adult” community. There’s a generational gap between the active “young old” and the far less active “old old.”

I am saddened as I see a steady stream of friends and acquaintances pass away. I am gratified, however, that I am still around to enjoy the company of my wife and children and that I still have a passionate interest in what’s going on in the world around me.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Tom Speaks explains how he finally learned the name of Daniel.]

Comments

I haven't read anything online that swept me away quite like your post here, Mort. It was no surprise to me when I got to the part about your being a retired journalist. I'm putting a visit to your blog on my to-do list.

Mort, I'm "only 71", but nevertheless believe that I understand how you feel since I share many of those feelings you describe. Generally, I'm terribley disappointed with today's lack of high standards not only in the arts, but in business & medicine as well. Perhaps we will see a return to excellance before we hit the obituaries!:) However, you are fortunate to be spending time with your wife & grown children. A rich blessing by any standard. Dee

Mort, I'm sorry for your lack of energy and glad you have your wife, kids, and friends.

I wonder if your column maybe speaks more about a difference between healthy elders and those who, like you, are dealing with a serious health problem. We could probably substitute the word "people" for "elders" there.

Thank you so much for sharing.

And...I don't begin to understand why you're second-guessing work done years ago.

Hi Mort,

Since I am almost 80 I am also reading the Obituaries with more interest.

I always joke that I lie in bed until my husband brings me the morning paper. Then I look at the obits and if my name isn't listed I get dressed.

I usually read your blog posts,Mort, and enjoy them. I don't always comment but I do read them and look forward to the next one.

As always, your post does speak to me and although I just turned 75, I'm getting all too familiar with various aches and pains. But you should never question the value -- at any time, of your writing and what it brings to others, the insight, the clarity, the hindsight and foresight that not all of us have. You have lived an incredible life and accomplished so very much. Your posts "sweep" a lot of us away. You've earned the right to enjoy all of the good things.

Thank you for sharing a most interesting and heartfelt post. I, too, along with Dee, feel a sense of disappointment with the lowering of standards across the board.

Mort--You've struck a few resonances for me: questioning whether I was smarter at a younger age (of course, I remember going through this excercise when I was in my 30s and contemplating work that I had done at age 14 so I don't really worry about it any more!), lacking the energy one once had, etc. There are, however a couple of items that find no resonance, but that raise questions: 1) If a physician "ordered" me to do anything, s/he would be my former physician and 2 Does your wife not drive?

Thanks for the interesting posting.

Mort, although my 'older old' disabilities are different than yours I do identify with loss of energy and the resulting loss of interest in attending the concerts, etc. that I once enjoyed.

I am constantly surprised that I have lived this long. It is, nonetheless gratifying.

Your writing is still excellent and probably always was.

Mort, thanks for putting into words many of the thoughts I have about being "old-old." You say it with so much insight and clarity .

You paint the picture so clearly that the "young old" can "get."

I feel the same way about films, music and TV that you do. I just can not understand why "they" can't make them like they used to.

As far as fatigue goes, I guess it comes with the territory but we are here and that's what counts!

Hi Mort,
My mom sent me.

I just took a lok at your blog. It's great. I'll have to spend some more time over there.

Based on what you've written here, it sounds to me like you should see a doctor. Worry is a worthless emotion is my motto. Dr Wayne Dyer said that.

Lots of people my age walk around thinking a doctor can't help them too, and then when they see a doctor, s/he diagnoses something they would never have known about.

Have you submitted your writing to other web sites?

From my quick glance at your posts, I think they'd be great on some political sites.

Take care,
--Steve

Mort, my uncle, whom I loved and who passed away at 90 used to make me laugh when he called me a baby. And it's true that I could have been his daughter. You are right, there is a difference between, as you put it, old and old-old. Your post, and Millie's, and others are helping us grasp the difference.
I've enjoyed your blog ever since I started reading it thanks to Ronni. And it's good to see you here at Time Goes By, too.
Keep writing for yourself --and for us.

Mort -Kol Ha Kavod - all the honor to you and Shanah Tovah!!!! You write so well...I am age 65 and my husband is 69 and we have become home bound not from illness - but from lact of energy. Just doing what we have to do - we have become set into a rather reclusive life - part of which bothers me - while the other part makes me so happy to be left alone to do what I want at this stage. Maybe if we could have afforded one of those adult community - it would have been different - but since we can't - we have to be happy with our lot and be glad not to be in "our plot."

Mr. Mort:

Thanks for sharing your story! I'll bet with all your journalistic experience, you could coin a better term that 'old, old' for those over 80. I wish you and your wife the very best...

Your story made me happy, Mort. I'm one of the "young old," and I've spent the weekend with some friends and my father, all of whom qualify as "old old." I always come away from these visits with mixed emotions including a little fear about losing my faculties as I age. It's inspiring to read your cogent description of old age and the changes you've gone through as you've grown older.

I hope the coming year is as good for you and your wife as any of the last twenty or thirty. I'm off to read your blog now. Based on the story you've told here you still are a fine writer. A real professional.

The other day I posted here about the predominantly feminine viewpointof the posts on "Oldest Old" and voila "Heeeeeere's Mort"
More than a penny's worth of thoughts.
Honest and well considered. I am 74 and starting to feel that my life - seems to be changing. I'm not the man I used to beand my strebgth (physical and intellectual) is fading but I can still get around on my own steam - maybe not so well after sundown but it's still not too bad. I know I haven't time or energy to waste and I don't. I don't spend much time talking too foolish people but then, truthis, I never did.
Lachaim!

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