[EDITORIAL NOTE: Darlene Costner of Darlene's HodgePodge was, as she explains below, otherwise engaged and unable to write a story for The Oldest Old Project. But she published her view from age 83 on her blog, and I want to include it here too.]
Ronni, of TIME GOES BY, had a writing project open to all of us over 80. Unfortunately it coincided with my preparations for my trip to Colorado. I simply didn’t have the time to give it any thought or to write an essay. Now I have more time to think about the changes in my life between the ages of 60 through 83.
I was widowed exactly 24 years ago this month. My daughter was living with me then but she needed to get on with her life and moved out sometime after that. The stress I was under during those years caused such a blur that I really can’t remember when she left or for how long. She did move back home later when she was suffering with a severe back problem. For several years I had a revolving door.
I was soon living alone for the first time in my life. I had recently lost my job because my hearing level deteriorated and I was quickly under great financial stress. During that time I was unsuccessfully trying to find employment.
I kept busy improving my house. When my husband was alive I would call on him to do the most menial tasks, like changing a light bulb. (Please don’t send me any “How many morons does it take to change a light bulb? I’ve heard them all). Out of necessity I discovered skills I didn’t know I possessed. I painted and wallpapered rooms, repaired drywall holes, replaced every door knob in my house with the European style handle. mowed the lawn, trimmed the hedges, etc. I was surprised and pleasantly gratified to find that I wasn’t as helpless as I thought.
When I was able to go on Social Security at the age of 62 I thanked Franklin Roosevelt for his foresight and crossed my fingers hoping that I would stay healthy until I was eligible for Medicare; Luckily, I didn’t need to see a doctor during that period and was, again, grateful when I could add my name to the roll of the insured.
I remained healthy and wisely invested the small insurance amount from my husband‘s policy. I was fortunate that the interest rate was paying 12% and my investments grew rapidly. I had always wanted to see far away places with strange sounding names so I cashed in some of my Mutual Funds and took to the friendly skies for a trip to the British Isles, France and Italy. I used three different tour groups and planned my itinerary between tours. It fulfilled the dream of a lifetime.
I am very frugal by nature (not cheap, you understand - just thrifty) and I managed to add to my travels by visiting Spain, Morocco, and a cruise of the Greek Isles. At the age of 75, I made my final European tour.
I have friends in Switzerland and, using their home as my base, I visited Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. This turned out to be the most exciting trip of all because I was totally on my own. Since I was not with a group I could take as long as I wanted in the museums, leave early if I wished, and I was in full charge of my itinerary. I even managed to see Neuschwanstein castle in Germany and it became the highlight of that trip.
While I saw many wonderful things on that trip it also made me realize that my days of traveling by myself had come to an end. Schlepping my suitcase on and off trains, staying in less than desirable places, sometimes sharing a bath, dealing with the con artists at the stations, etc. were just too much for an old lady. There were days when I simply wished that I was home in my own bed because I didn’t feel well and was too tired to enjoy what I was seeing.
I believe that’s when I began to feel old. My last trip coincided with the sale of my house and buying a town house. Up until my mid seventies I did not feel old and was constantly amazed at the fact that the calendar said I was becoming an ancient. I continued to do all of my work, but physical limitations were beginning to appear. (A caveat: my hearing loss was the first limiting problem and it had occurred many years before so I have to qualify my last statement.)
Rapid changes in attitude accompanied declining energy in my 80’s. I no longer miss going to concerts, plays, and other events that were once desired. Somehow, very little seems worth the effort. I am quite content to stay home with a good book or a DVD. I fall asleep watching TV, or even a good movie. I go to bed when that happens no matter how good the show might be. At first I tried keeping a regular bed time routine then one day I thought, “Why bother?” Who cares if I go to bed at 9 pm and get up at 3 am. I am setting my own schedule and not apologizing for it. My doctor does not approve.
I also find that I do not suffer fools gladly now. I am ashamed to say that I am not as tolerant of people who believe things just because Oprah, Rush or some politician say it's so. I admire people who think for themselves. It should be the other way around, I know. I should be like the Beatitude for elders that says, “Blessed are they who never say, you’ve told that story twice today.” I am doubly ashamed because I know I am guilty of the very thing that irritates me.
I no longer care if my house is spotless. It used to be a matter of pride that my furniture was polished, the floors clean, the windows washed and all was in order. While I was never a Mrs. Felix Unger I did try to retain my image. No more. I think that might be a matter of self preservation because I am aware that I am unable to do the hard work necessary. I shove it onto my list of things that I won’t worry about. Now I am more like Phyllis Diller who joked, "I clean my house twice a year whether it needs it or not."
My mental closet is full of things that I will think about tomorrow. I have become a regular Scarlett O’Hara.
Like Mort said in his post on this subject, decisions are much harder now. I just don’t want to have to make any. I want my life to run smoothly without complications and a mix up on a bill can drive me to distraction. I hate having to deal with computer problems, being overcharged, etc. Truth to tell, I don’t handle stress well at all. There are also days when I think I need a keeper.
I have fears, but they are no longer about things that go bump in the night. I fear a stroke or a disability that will rob me of my independence. I do not fear death; I fear what may come first. Everyone wishes that they could just go to sleep and not wake up. Very few are so blessed and even though I hope I am one of those, I fear I may not be. My worst nightmare is that I might become a burden.
There is much to be said for being 83. I am contentedly happy and I am more aware of small pleasures. I appreciate each extra day that I have been given. I love being responsible for no one except me, and I enjoy the freedom that I now have. Old age brings many problems, but it is also a time of great joy.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, find out who earned the September 2008 Excellence in Storytellling Award from your votes.]