The Wit and Wisdom of TGB Readers – Part 1
About Those Funny Little Noises I've Been Making

The Losses of Age

This is Part 2 of the new series, The Wit and Wisdom of TGB Readers - today with a musical surprise at the end.

There is a motherlode of wisdom, inspiration, wit and humor in the comments section of a post last week. Among a variety of other, one theme was loss – the many kinds we encounter at this time of life which are closely related to limitations that we discussed on Monday.

Fatigue and Physical Decline
Before I get any further, let us remind ourselves that individuals age at dramatically different rates.

Some are in physical (and, sometimes, mental) decline by their fifties or sixties. Others (I am repeatedly surprised to find out how large the number is) are highly functional into their nineties and beyond. (Hello, Darlene Costner and Millie Garfield.)

I've learned a lot about overall tiredness and fatigue these past weeks with two in-hospital procedures. I'm still napping twice a day. Even without medical difficulties, youthful energy just isn't available anymore as the years pile up.

”I've reached the point at 81 where the ability (and/or money) to do many of the activities I once enjoyed are in dwindling supply,” writes Elizabeth Rogers.

“I used to enjoy my job, also gardening, decorating and shopping, among other things. I was able to donate to causes I support, political and otherwise. Now? Not so much.”

TGB reader Henry, who will be 91 in a couple of months, says he knows a lot about having to slow down:

”...it takes a lot of energy to get down the stairs to the laundry in the basement and back up again so I sit down to rest for a moment and then it’s time for a lunch and a short nap and I try to plant something in the garden and it’s time for Jeopardy.

“It’s so damn frustrating. Everywhere around me there are so many things shrieking at me 'Doo me!' If only I had more stamina.”

Giving Up Favorite Activities
It is not just slowing down. Sometimes it is chronic pain and/or conditions that force us to accept that we just can't keep up anymore. From Norma:

”Have recently been trying to come to grips with pain issues, old and new. After today's appointment I have agreed to try some new meds. I need to do something, but mostly I am angry that I may be having to settle with limitations I am just not ready to accept.”

And from David Newman:

”A harsh reality for me was knowing when to quit [blogging]. I stopped the last of my own life-long journalistic activities when I realized I could no longer meet deadline, thanks to health issues.”

Losing the Touchstones of Our Lives
It is not just that our worlds shrink as friends and relatives die. It is that they are gone forever, the people who made our lives warm and wonderful and whole.

(By the way, I've never understood how people say, “I loved him” or “I loved her” - past tense - sometimes a few minutes after the person dies. I still love all the people who are gone from my life, even decades later.)

”I could do without the 4-5 doc appointments a month,”Lyn Burstine tells us, “but maybe that's why I'm still here, having outlived all but one of my ancestors, and, sadly, many of my friends. And of those left, many now have dementia.”

Celia, who is 76, makes an important point about the loss of our culture along with that of loved ones:

”Aside from the deaths there is also a loss of some of what made me myself and where I came from. I have one younger sister who remembers me as child and our family life at that time, and one aunt and uncle who have made it together into their 90's. No one else.

“It's like we came from a culture that disappeared. Ancient history. I guess I am my own artifact.

The Ultimate Loss
During this past year of pancreatic cancer, survival and a couple of subsequent health risks, I've often said that I'm not done yet, that I have a few more things I want to do before I go.

My friend Jim Fisher talked about that too in regard to his volunteer work with our local City Natural Areas:

”I have a new worry related to my aging,” he writes. “...I worry that I may not live long enough to achieve everything I care about. It’s a new, nagging feeling, and one I try to dismiss.”

The ultimate loss, of course, is ourselves, fraught in many different ways depending on personal beliefs. Even with worry such as Jim's, I still believe deep inside that you and you and you will die but not me. I am the one immortal, (she cackled).

Which, of course, is stupid and what I really believe is that the most important job for each of us in old age is to come to an acceptance of our own mortality.

But we'll save that for another day.

Now, for reading through all this doom and gloom today, here is a treat for you. A new song from Willie Nelson who turned 85 last Sunday. It is titled, Last Man Standing and I know just how he feels. So, I think, will you. (You may need to go to YouTube to watch this. Just click the link in the image and it will open.)


Comments

You really are an amazing woman. The way you can look at a conglomeration of information and see a pattern and make it a whole with just the right words and structure is unbelievable.

The end product is a buffet utilizing all the ingredients brought by your guests.

And always interesting too.

Go team Ronni!!

I want to be standing right beside Willie.

I have hated loss since I was eight years old when my mother was taken away to a mental hospital. I spent years expecting people to disappear, then kind of stopped it, at least consciously. Now it's started up again as I'm turning 77 and living in a retirement community. What could be the good part of that awareness? Maybe paying better attention to all the beautiful people and animals who are still here. And not rushing through my day because it may be one of my last. But darn, I still have a long to-do list!

And thank you as usual. :)

Willie was here a couple of weeks ago and I did not get to see him, but now wishing I had. I can't recall the last time he played here, and this may his last visit to my city. Remarkable that he's still touring and performing as well as he is at 85. Thanks for that song, Ronni.


There are still days when I feel like I am going to live forever and the specter of death is not looming closer. Of course, that's nonsense. Nonetheless, that's a whole lot better than living in the doom and gloom of the knowledge that one day you will be no more.

When the doom and gloom thoughts hover I am more prone to think of what my death will mean to my loved ones. I vacillate between thinking that it may be a relief to them to not have to worry about me anymore or thinking that they will miss my presence in their lives. Then I go from selfishly hoping they will miss me or being magnanimous and hoping that they are not too sad. How stupid is that?

Today is a good day; the pain is minimum and so I will just enjoy the day. I can still hear the twitter of the birds joyously preparing their nests for another generation of feathered flyers and the morning air is cool so all is right with my world.

All true.

Thanks for Willie's song...delightful. As are your words. I had an awakening while working with my physical therapist today, where I had thought I would be eventually getting a knee replaced, but it felt so much more fluid in movements today. I said as much, and he reassured me that building the muscles of my leg would keep that from needing to happen, that muscles would keep the knee from deteriorating. I'd never thought of our joints like that, and said I would keep doing my exercises so I'd eventually have a new body (you can laugh now!)

Wit and wisdom indeed. You, Ronnie, and your readers are a continual inspiration.
Yet, I often wonder at the absence of discussions of widowhood after a long (in my case 54 year long) marriage. Roy was my first sweetheart, the love of my life. Eight years have passed and it still feels like a posthumous existence - as if a large chunk of me went with him. Which is not to say that I do not cherish my life or try to live it to my utmost every day - just that I echo Barbara Ehrenreich in her latest book, Natural Causes, in thinking that, at 81, "I am old enough to die." .
She adds "Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating." Wondering if others feel as I do; that the death of a beloved life partner makes the celebration sweeter while thought of one's own death is easier to bear.
Love, Ann

Thank you, Ronni, Willie, and all here.

Your comment about the fact that the aging process is different and individual for everyone really resonated with me.

At 62, the last year I have found my energy level diminishing not because of an illness but just that my body seems to need to rest after many years of running around on adrenaline. I am adapting little by little each day to the amount of activity I sense I can handle and learning to focus on what's important to me at this time in my life. Then let go of the rest which is becoming a blessing. Why hold onto things that don't serve me anymore!

I have classmates that are still the energizer bunny and I thought there was something wrong with me because I am no longer able to keep up with them until I let all that go and accepted that my body and their body operate differently.

I was thinking about this and your last post and see that the first comment by Victoria puts so eloquently what I was thinking.

I shall extract your points and hang them on the wall. Thanks Ronni. xxx

At 75, chronic fatigue is my biggest problem. It's the number one side effect of letrozole, the drug I must take for five years following my breast cancer surgery. I was told it would make me feel 10 years older, and it certainly has. So is this age or is it letrozole? How much of each? How will I feel at 78 when I get off the drug?

But while wrestling with the energy thing, I remain grateful that I'm still here at all, unafflicted by any chronic illness (knock wood!), still in my right mind, living just a mile from my son and grandchildren and an hour from the mountains.

I am so grateful to be part of this discussion. Thank you, Ronni, for fostering it.

Perhaps this gratitude is because of the perspective that each of those who comment brings to the table.

We are all such infinitesimal bits of the whole, yet all of us make it complete.

Of course, I absolutely know I am going to die, and probably sooner rather than later, since I've outlived most of my family tree's life-spans. And I didn't live all that exemplary a life to get some sort of bonus.

Still, that knowledge comes with the caveat of "not yet! I have things to do."

TGB is a touchstone for me that tells me I am not an oddball, that there are people out there just like me. For example, I thought I was merely cranky and ageist for not wanting to make the transition (at 83) to an independent living facility mainly because I just couldn't stand eating dinner daily with a bunch of old farts who perhaps hadn't kept up with the world, maybe doing singalongs of "You Are My Sunshine." But in numerous TGB posts, I hear from others who value their privacy and their "aloneness." I love knowing that there are many other old farts like me who have kept up with politics and music and cultural changes. I haven't had much luck meeting like-minded oldsters in person, but thanks to TGB, I know they are out there, and I can get together with them virtually several times a week.

Ronnie, I truly appreciate your comment: "(By the way, I've never understood how people say, “I loved him” or “I loved her” - past tense - sometimes a few minutes after the person dies. I still love all the people who are gone from my life, even decades later.) There is always comfort in finding one's own thoughts voiced and validated so well. Thank you.

What came to mind when I read your words is the long remembered opening of one of Shakespeare's Sonnets carved on a silver pendent given me as a gift many years ago. "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds." I am not a Shakespearean scholar, but the gentleman did have a way with words.

Ann Burack-Weiss voiced similar thoughts about her own husband gone 8 years. As a widow of 7+ years and new to Portland, I still think about my husband often. How could Ann and I not after over a half century side by side? (We married in 1958.) So we 'do' today and hope we will manage tomorrow building a 'new normal'...whatever that is for an 80 y/o lady feeling less alone reading the words of all the thoughtful people posting here .
Thank you, Charlene.

Ahh. I was having a frustrating day today with not wanting to feel the way I was feeling which was tired, headachy, and miserable. I voiced my concerns to my doctor today about why isn't there a handbook to prepare us for what aging, and preparing for it looks like. And then I open my email and there you are addressing the issue so eloquently. Along with your other readers comments it allowed me a moment to Breathe and believe I will not feel like this for the rest of my years. But that there may be more slow and achy days then in the past. I mean after all I am only 69. It seems the brain hasn't caught up with the ailments. Thank you for sharing your insights.

Hah! "I guess maybe I am my own artifact." Where else could I have read those words? They are going in my journal, or on the refrigerator. Today I'm on top of the world, interesting thoughts, things to do. Heard myself laying grand plans, which, would be grand indeed. Now, if the past repeats itself, which it's been doing for about a year, and I go a night or two or three without good sleep, those large plans will recede into a haze.
Hope is a double edged sword, isn't it? We overcome severe illnesses, deal with complex aging issues, we do, we do improve in many ways. Then there are things, that for all our hope and willingness to do the work, do not improve. Maybe get worse. And something, perhaps just old age itself, will eventually bring us to the doorway of whatever comes next. And, hey, that may not be a bad thing, it may be a beautiful thing.

Just home from my vol job at the ILR.

A letter was being passed around the dining room.

It was hand-written by a resident who is also a wonderful artist. She designed sets for musicals.

Call her D.

D is in the hospital.

D might not come home again.

She has lung cancer.

Volunteering at the ILR is a constant reminder of how life can flip in a micro second.

It's a constant reminder that I am not G.I. Jane or Wonder Woman.

That everything has a beginning and an end.

That money can't buy health, true friends, a personality or a different head.

This winter we took a road trip to SPI, Texas.

There were thousands of migrating birds resting on the mud flats in South Padre Island. Our guide took a group of us on an elevated wooden bordwalk that wound around a gorgeous bird sanctuary.

Toward the end of the walk, Guide Tom pointed straight across the mud flats. "See those birds? Those migrating birds huddled together out there?"

There were thousands of birds in the distance. We couldn't stop staring at the sight that will forever be with me.

Tom:

"Think about this."

"Those birds flew across the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine their determination. Imagine some of the hardships they encountered on the way. Hunters. Sickness. Bad luck. But look how many made it. See how they are huddled together. Look at the strength of those birds."

Now that we're home, I think of those SPI birds when I can't sleep, when I stare at the lake, listen to the soundtrack of the movie "Crazy Heart."

We played that CD in the car. Jeff Bridges singing.

The sight of those birds was one of the most hauntingly beautiful moments in our travels.

I close my eyes and still see them.

No fanfare. No medals.

Those migrating birds made it across the Gulf of Mexico, damn it, and I respect the hell out of them for that.

What's the takeaway?

We can do this thing called aging.


I hope "D" (the lady in the hospital) has a POLST and a Health Care Directive! One of my pervasive concerns is not being able to end my life as I choose: at a time and place--and by a means--that I have determined to be right for me. I live in a "Death with Dignity" state, but there are still many restrictions. While these may make sense for younger people and/or those with certain disabilities, I would much prefer a more individualized approach for myself at 81.

I was recently blogging about this too. How do you tell the difference between being ill and being old? Am I more tired because something is wrong with me, or because it's part of getting older?

if there was one question I would like to be able to know, it is this, Is this fatigue mental or physical or a natural fact of aging. Could it be watching the deterioration of our country's sense of decency? I need a good water pistol fight to take me away from myself. Myself worries too much, I have lost my inner kid I am grateful for many things in my life, but feel disconnected from spontaneity. I am held captive by my fear of not being able to control my future. You, Ronni, are my hero. You acknowledge your fears and are using them to educate your followers. you are the best example of maintaining control under almost all situations.

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