2020 Blog Housekeeping
INTERESTING STUFF – 11 January 2020

How Old Age Shrunk My Life and Why That is a Good Thing

On Monday's post, long-time TGB reader Salinda Dahl made reference to one particular way her life has changed:

”My life, though so much 'smaller' than in the past...I stand smiling, befuddled, feeling somehow less-than. But when my secret life is in sway, oh the inexplicable wonder and beauty, and sometimes terror! Big, very big.”

(I'm inviting her to expand on that thought in the comments below today.)

Although I'm not certain, I think I know some of what Salinda means. My life has become smaller for reasons that can all be filed under one header, “You Got Old.”

Even before the cancer diagnosis in 2017, I had begun slowing down my life. It's not that I made a decision to change my activity level exaxtly; mostly I just followed inclinations as they appeared.

Fewer social evenings out. Internet purchases and delivery instead of shopping trips. And I generally gave up entertaining at home and on holidays because my energy and stamina began going south in relation to my intentions.

I had some earlier practice at cutting back social life after I took a job that involved a four-hour, round-trip commute which. If you've never done that, you might not realize that although you can get a lot of reading done, it is all about work and sleep during the week and chores catch-up all weekend.

There is no time for much else when you lose 20 waking hours from a week.

During my three years at that job, I think I became accustomed to having a smaller social life and some friends disappeared when I so regularly declined invitations because there was simply no time for a social life beyond a quick coffee date, for example, among weekend chores.

But that's not an excuse anymore. All kinds of things change as old age settles upon us. Certainly less energy in general leaves me tired but there are other reasons too.

Sleep overtakes me much earlier now. It's hard for me to follow a conversation let alone participate after 6PM. My brain seems to stop parsing language by then. Mostly, nowadays, I see friends for lunch.

For some reason too (I think we've touched on this one previously in these pages), more than one trip out of the house per day is all I can handle. If I've done the grocery shopping, stopped at the pharmacy and driven to the cannabis dispensary, I'm done for the day.

Sometimes I'm stuck doing all those things in addition to rehab or seeing a doctor. On those days, there is not a chance of budging me from home once I get back there.

Another important contribution to a smaller life: Old age is greedy – it wants all the time it can steal from you and even more if you plug in a disease or ailment.

Our bodies are wearing out as we reach late life and force us to slow down almost everything we do. Household chores I once did for myself require a handyman or specialist – more time gone. For decades, I cleaned the house on Saturday morning. The goal was to finish by noon and most of the time I did. Now? It's a joke. I do a little every day but I don't finish everything every week anymore.

More doctor visits. Weekly pill counting into little boxes. If you don't live in a big city and give up driving, trade in that half-hour trip to the dentist for 60 or 90 minutes each way on public transportation.

COPD has cut my normal walking speed at least in half. Something in my condition or perhaps a medication has weakened my hands so I cannot carry as much weight – e.g. groceries – as I did not long ago. More time gone. And so on.

There is no telling how many books I haven't read, movies I haven't seen and blog posts that are not written because life's boring maintenance, which I hardly noticed for 70 years, takes so damned much time now.

I feel the walls of my life closing in, making the room - life itself – smaller.

But here's the great surprise: For all this shrinkage, my life doesn't feel small. It feels huge, much larger than all those years I worked in a glamorous media business, traveled the world and was always on the go when I was home.

Let it be said that I'm no stranger to lots of time alone. I've always needed more of that than many people but now my inner life is so much richer, filled with new curiosity, understanding and insight to life and to myself almost daily discovering my truths, if not universal ones.

Maybe that's the purpose of old age, to slow us down just so we can have the time to savor and delight in the realizations that become available to us now if we pay attention. To quote Salinda again,

”Oh the inexplicable wonder and beauty, and sometimes terror! Big, very big.”

What a splendid thing to have happen when all the rest of the world believes old age is a bummer. This has become the best time of my life – just as I believed every earlier time was the best when I was living them.

Comments

>>My brain seems to stop parsing language by then. <<

This has become a huge issue with me. By 4 p.m. my brain seems to slow to a crawl, making conversation almost impossible and I become an introvert.

I have one board meeting I attend each month that meets in the evening. As all the members are getting older, at the last meeting we decided to meet at 4 p.m. I was all for it because I contribute almost nothing to these meetings as it is now. And yet, I am quite the extrovert conversationalist at the meetings I attend earlier in the day.

What a beautiful reflection on life! Thank you, Mrs Bennett.

My mother used to say that as you get older, you begin to catch glimpses of eternity. To me that always meant that the older you get, that the glimpse can turn into a gaze.

It is a splendid, beautiful thought. Perhaps the universe is opening itself to you. There may be so much more to the "small little life" than most of us will ever know.

Thank you for giving me something to think on...

I am busier now than when I was working. True, age slows a lot of the daily preparation and actions, but my mind has a myriad of projects to complete. In my early thirties, I became a councilperson and eventually Mayor of a small town. I became very cynical and swore off politics for 40 years, no more "wasted" time. Now I am becoming more involved and enjoying it, but at my pace. My experience over the decades has tempered my Don Quixote method of society correction but I still have a drive. Now, because the wolf isn't at the door, I am actually having fun. But, age makes it all a challenge. Time is valuable; I used to waste it.
For the first time in over 60 years, I feel free. B

This language parsing decline in the brain is a disappointment. I've never had a photographic memory, but used to be able to recall names, dates, details with ease. That began to slow down in my early 60's and now, a few months shy of 70, I find I have to focus much more to take in and retain information. Recall is much trickier, and if there are two conversations going on -- one on the television and one in the room it's almost impossible to attend to either and to repeat what I just heard from either source just minutes later.

My aging brain does not seem to like too much stimulation at once. It would be nice to be able to take a respite and go away to a quiet cabin in the woods somewhere for a few days once in a while and regroup, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now. Still, I do prefer this time of my life over those when I was working for pay. If it had only come earlier in life.

Ah, yes. As I pondered an emergency caution from the electric company that we are about to get sleet, freezing rain, and high winds that may knock down many trees, causing power interruptions and terrible driving conditions, I thought, "Sure beats my working days when I had to motor several miles to and from the job no matter what the conditions."

Now, I'll just stay for a couple of days in our smaller world and enjoy my cozy home until all the bad stuff passes.

A doctor named William Thomas wrote a book a few years ago called "What Are Old People For." In it, he said that children live in a world dominated by "being," with little purposeful, planful action. Adolescents begin to transition into a world of "doing," though they revert to the childhood world some of the time. Adults are all about doing, doing, doing as they start a career, find partners, have children, etc. But sometime as people get older there is another transition, when old people begin to retreat from the world of doing and inhabit instead a world dominated by being--a world he calls elderhood. This model explains, among other things, the natural connection between old people and children.

Thomas also says that some old people cling to the world of doing, fearful that if they don't keep accomplishing things they will be cast aside as not important. He urges older adults to consider the gifts of elderhood--the chance to make peace with what one's life has been, to pass on wisdom in the form of stories, to leave a legacy by being fully oneself.

I resonate with his model as I find myself, in my 70s, not so interested in going and doing as I used to be. I recommend the book, as there's much more to his thinking than what I've written here.

I do less now due to physical limitations but also because of my time limitation. I want to use my time and energy wisely. That may mean choosing to read a book or looking out the window instead of doing something that I ‘should’. I have earned the right to live my life as I please as much as possible. At least that is my goal.

I has been a tough month at my house, I can fall into wondering if there is going to be *light* at the end of this particular tunnel. Today is a "maybe".   I am always thankful for "Time Goes By" Ronni,  Your ideas,and those of your faithful fans always bring some *light*.

Today's comments about your own earlier good life brought to mind something said to me by my oldest friend in the sad time after my  husband of 50+ years died.  I remember it often and it may speak to many of us at this end of the game. "Remember, Love, once there was a Camelot"  I don't remember the movie it came from, but her kind words  remain in my heart even now, 10 years later.

Age, loneliness, poor health, are all still present.  But so am I...more or less.  At 82, some days it feels like I'm stitching and stapling myself together before getting out of bed or even answering a simple question.  It helps me to run the words slowly through my mind so I can answer sensibly.  I've become like a "kit" of a person labeled "Some Assembly Required"  It's not a lot of "assembly" ...but some parts seem to be missing. Contact 'customer service'-week days, business hours only !! And we all know how frustrating any 'customer service' can be.  Doctor's appoints, getting hair cut, etc., but like so many here we manage with a little help from friends like your TimeGoesBy . 

Paul Kalanithi's words still ring true for me , “until I actually die, I am still living.”

I've always needed more "me time" than most people and now I have it. I'm an urban hermit. I can go a week without leaving the house, and that long without seeing anyone else. I sleep as long as I want, whenever I want. My attention span is notably shorter, or perhaps that's because I just don't care as much anymore. And best of all, I've finally learned to say "no" with confidence.

Holy cow the maintenance. Getting an eight o'clock doctor's appointment (which I avoid if at all possible) requires setting my alarm for 6 am, just to get in the necessities, fortunately I still drive and her office is only 7 blocks away. I live downtown in a small town. My dentist is next door.

I pay all my bills and do "business" after breakfast to avoid mistakes I'd make in the afternoon. After 3 pm I'm on drift. It's also the reason I do most of my cooking midday, if I wait until dinner it will probably be tuna on crackers. When I worked I went in early and worked hard until 2 or so, and then did the easy stuff. But then I could get ready for work in 15 minutes+ shower, amazing.

My small condo is never all clean in a week, even with drafting grandkids to vacuum. But you know what, I don't really care anymore and I love that. Most of my housekeeping goes into sorting out stuff to give away, except my books, and I wonder why I needed all this stuff. Many things that annoyed me in my younger impatient life don't bother me any longer and I love that too. I can read half the day if I want and talk to long distance friends for a hour or more too. Something I only ever did with my sisters and Mom.

Thanks for another thought provoking post Ronni.

I read or skimmed comments. Like you, Ronni, health & age have required less doing than before tho theatre is still needed for many reasons. That said those of us still working for pay may have other needs for use of time.

I’ve never liked the “paperwork” of having a biz. Alas electronic or in print there are necessities to be considered.

What’s been stunning: in the last month, the number of those younger than I who have retired. I can’t decide if I’m envious or curious.

A not-old neighbor in our bldg posted today things they were giving away. I’d like the time to do the same. It seems the “musts” require I keep moving albeit a bit slower!

Nancy Wick...

For a short while back in 2010 an 2011, Dr. Bill Thomas was the "TGB Geriatrician". You'll find a list of his columns here https://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/the_tgb_geriatrician/

Everything I read here resonates with me. It seems there's always something that takes longer or becomes a chore.
This week I received two surprises, a notice my doctor is retiring and my dentist who happens to be the friend and dentist of my doctor, is taking in another dentist with, I assume, the intention to retire soon.

Now not only do I have the headache to find new ones, but have to face the fact that they are going to be much younger than I am. I wonder how well they will understand an older person's perspective. Will they respect me as an intelligent person as well as I am willing to respect them as a professional? It's going to be interesting.

I just turned 79, and I am slowing down - not because I want to - but because my husband's condition now requires someone to be here all the time. He doesn't want to be left alone, and truthfully, he can't. So, I have had to all but give up my social life (unless I invite people to come here). Luckily, my sweet and attentive daughter, my baby, will stay with her dad so I can play Scrabble once a week, and sometimes she stays with him so I can go to the free movie offered at our clubhouse every Sat. BUT....I no longer take advantage of the many programs at our clubhouse, or the Monday night dinner club, or the game nights, musicals or luncheons which are planned often. Sometimes I am glad I have an excuse not to go - but most often - I have to fight against feeling put upon and sorry for myself.

Just home from dinner with a friend, whose wonderful advice was to tell others the truth about being old. When they eagerly ask "What are you DOing, are you TRAvelling?" Just smile and say, " Oh, I'm working on my interior life!" And really, that is it, after all, at this stage, what life is largely about. While out at night looking into the heavens, that, for me, is really feeling connected. It is sacred, bigger, and more important than anything I could "do" now. Many smaller moments hold a kind of magic that they did not when life was bigger. Perhaps that is what Aidawedo's mother meant when she spoke of elders catching glimpses of eternity.

At 85, I can relate to every thing you said, Ronni.....and to most of the comments. I do keep myself busy.....on purpose. I guess I am afraid to stop. I might not get started again. All my activities are scheduled for morning hours. I go to exercise class on Monday, to a fiction writing class on Tuesday, a memoir writing class on Wednesday and on Thursday I spend the morning volunteering at a local elementary school. I love helping the shaky little readers improve. Then on Friday back to exercise class. Being unable to drive at night gives me the perfect "out' for declining invitations ...Truth be told, I love being on lockdown by sundown. Small life? Yes, it is. Just the way I prefer.

There's an age, as I recall, where we begin to die--27 comes to mind, but no matter. We are on the decline most of our lives, at first hardly noticing it, but later, as it accelerates, we begin to take note until finally, on average, in our sixties, but especially in our 70's, we say oh, my God, I'm really old and getting older quickly. Yes, it's happening to me, to all of us. I don't like it one bit, but what to do about it? Nothing other than try to deny it, accentuate the positive, learn to live with it, or whatever gets you through it and over the finish line. I think I'll put it out of my mind, however, for two or three more years--75 sounds like a nice number to reassess and decide the best approach and strategy moving forward. Until then, I do not want to talk about it. All you old people :) Just kidding, but the latter would be an extreme case of denial. Take heart, I'm one of you--like I said, let's chat in a few years.

All the comments are SO beautiful and, in my case, so on point! Thanks.
I was in my late fifties when I asked my Scottish friend what old age was like. She was what I now know was a young 74! "old age is when the pieces of the puzzle that was your life fall into place Betty!"
How right she was - possibly because we finally have time to think?
I love being old and alone although at times I wish I had an old partner to be growing old with. On the other hand .....
Happy tomorrow everyone!

Wonderful post and comments.

It also seems to me that the purpose of aging, of having to disconnect a bit (or a lot) from the doing stage of life is so that we will turn inward. And with honest, heartfelt introspection we can recognize the beautiful gift that life is. Also, in having to give up some of our activities, we are forced to prioritize and hold on to what makes us who we are, what gives our lives meaning. As long as we can do that, it's all good.

Just love the post and the heart-felt comments that flowed from it.I think when we stop taking life for granted it becomes more valuable and rewarding.As we count our blessings -particularly the time we are given ,life suddenly takes on a new dimension and it is that depth we enjoy because we see new things and facts as we grow old each day.

I find my exterior world has indeed become “smaller” compared to the expansive nature of my more egocentric interior world. I take pleasure in reviewing both personal and world events that occurred in my lifetime from a more objective perspective historical analysis provides — for example, most recently actions of Sen. Joe McCarthy and his right hand man, Roy Cohen, our current President’s model. This isn’t the first time I’ve considered some of those issues.

History offers us lessons to learn if we only pay attention. I like to think about what I was doing or thinking then, along with those around me and how my impressions are unchanged or may be different. I was in high school those years paying only superficial attention to our governmental issues and then influenced by views of adults in my life.

So much more time to focus on more pleasurable thoughts. Of course, a steadily narrowing of the numbers of those from my life still living leaves a bittersweet taste, as just today the son of an old friend writes to tell me of his mother’s death. I marvel at why I’m still here but am grateful to be.

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