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Posts Tagged ‘Old age’

That getting old(er) thing

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, film, History, journalism, life, television on October 19, 2013 at 12:24 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Today is my husband’s birthday. Much as we are a bit gobsmacked by the years we’ve now racked up, better than the alternative!

It’s been a fascinating week for discovering some things that are really, really — mind-bogglingly — old.

Memento Mori with 17th Century human skull (2013)

Memento Mori with 17th Century human skull (2013) (Photo credit: failing_angel)

Like this human skull, estimated to be 1.8 million years old, found in Georgia, studied for the past eight years.

Or this meteorite, that streaked through the skies above Russia, and was lifted from the bottom of a lake. It’s said to be 4.5 billion years old, the same age as our solar system.

This week on PBS, I also watched — and loved — the latest instalment, 56 Up, of Michael Apted’s amazing series of documentaries, which began in 1964 with Seven Up, in which he interviewed and filmed 14 London children of varying social and economic backgrounds.

Every seven years, he has re-visited them and filmed them again, to see how they were doing — at 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and now, at 56.

It’s a compelling examination of how people change, (or don’t), over time.

Today, “reality” television is so normal as to be cliche, an alternate universe in which people seem to think nothing of confiding to millions of strangers while staring straight into a camera lens. It was once quite a radical notion to broadcast people’s everyday lives, and their most intimate feelings.

Who were you at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 or 56?

I know many readers of this blog are still in their early 20s, so all those decades have yet to arrive.

Me, about age eight

Me, about age eight

I have few photos of myself as a younger person, most of them taken between the ages of six and 14. After that, it’s as though I vanished; my parents divorced and I spent most of my time divided between boarding school and summer camp.

I don’t remember anyone taking my picture between the ages of about 14 and 26, although I have one from my college graduation, which neither parent attended. In it is one of my then best friends, Nancy, whose last name I can’t even remember now.

Which is sad, as my life was a wild adventure in my early 20s — starting my writing career, traveling alone through Europe at 22 for four months, and then winning a life-changing fellowship in Paris at the age of 25. I do have, somewhere, some great photos of my visit to an Arctic village on assignment, being interviewed in a particle-board shack by a man speaking Inuktitut — the local radio station for the community of 500.

By 28 I had achieved my goal of being hired as a writer for The Globe & Mail, Canada’s best newspaper and, restless, would soon jump to Montreal where I met the man I married at 35. By 42, I’d been divorced for five years.

Ironically, my husband Jose is a professional photographer, who has taken many images of me in our 13 years together; the photo on my “about” page here is his. Some are funny, some lovely. With no kids or grand-kids to cherish them, though, it’s only a pile of memories for us.

I wonder how many years I’ll have left, of life, health, relative comfort and how many I’ll have to celebrate with Jose…

Many more, I hope!

Who were you at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 or 56?

Have you changed much over the years? How?

How great is it — really — living alone?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, news, seniors on March 4, 2012 at 12:35 am
English: Young Lady With Older Gentleman At A ...

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re living alone, or unwilling to re-marry, and in your 50s or older, you’re part of a trend in the U.S, reports The New York Times:

more adults are remaining single. The shift is changing the traditional portrait of older Americans: About a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or had never been married in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 1970, according to an analysis of recently released census data conducted by demographers at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.

Sociologists expect those numbers to rise sharply in coming decades as younger people, who have far lower rates of marriage than their elders, move into middle age.

Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State, said the trend would transform the lives of many older people.

The elderly, who have traditionally relied on spouses for their care, will increasingly struggle to fend for themselves. And federal and local governments will have to shoulder much of the cost of their care. Unmarried baby boomers are five times more likely to live in poverty than their married counterparts, statistics show. They are also three times as likely to receive food stamps, public assistance or disability payments.

This is serious stuff, and an issue I’ve recently tasted firsthand.

I had major surgery in early February — enough of a financial challenge for someone self-employed with no paid sick or vacation days and a monthly four-figure overhead to meet. I came home from the hospital after three days, unable to bathe, dress, cook or clean the apartment. Simply trying to sweep our tiny kitchen floor, a week later, sent my pulse racing.

A physical therapist and nurse came to our apartment several times a week, hugely comforting to know I was healthy and recovering well. But the most minute of daily tasks were overwhelming for several weeks — without the physical help of my husband, and his infinite kindness and gentleness, it would have been impossible.

I lived alone for much of my life, ages 19 to 23 (when I lived with a boyfriend), ages 24 to 30 (when I settled down with my first husband), ages 37 to 43 (after my divorce, with no children.)  I generally enjoyed my privacy and solitude, had plenty of friends, work I liked, a small black terrier for company, and never worried much about it.

That all changed with my first orthopedic surgery, in January 2000, followed by another (both minor knee operations) within the year. For the first, I was single, and another single friend came all the way up from Manhattan in a blinding blizzard — even climbing our steep hill after the taxi gave up — to be with me. I got meals delivered by my church for a few days, then my father came from Canada to stay with me for a few more days.

I needed help for quite some time. Trying to simply buy groceries on crutches — which I’ve now done many times — is no picnic!

Being alone? Not so alluring, suddenly.

My mother, who lived on her own her entire life after her divorce from my father when she was 30, is now in a nursing home. It was clear to me on my last visit that she wasn’t going to be living alone much longer, for a variety of health-related reasons. Like me, she is — or always was — fiercely independent.

Unlike many women her age, though, she was fortunate enough to have the financial means to remain that way.

Old age is a rough ride for many of us, especially women who do not have pensions to rely on, or adequate savings or Social Security payments. Those of us who never had children, nor who have families that are either emotionally or physically close to us, willing to help us shower or buy our groceries or change our dressings, have to have very good friends, or someone we can rely on.

Who’s going to step in? Who’s going to pay for it?

The Times — somewhat confusingly — also recently published a piece that’s a paean to the glories of the single life — great if you’ve got lots of cash, consistently terrific health and/or a wide, deep network of supportive friends and family nearby. Few of us do!

A new book extols the virtues of the solo life, but also raises some of these questions.

What once looked like a seductive form of privacy and independence can quickly change form into something much darker and more frightening.

Do you live alone right now?

How’s it working for you?

This Is What 80 Looks Like

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, Fashion, Health, life, Medicine, seniors, Style, women on May 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm
Elders from Turkey

They're Turkish...love those caps! Image via Wikipedia

It might be the worst taboo of all — old age. Not middle age, the final decade(s.)

I moved into an apartment building at 30 where everyone — who knew? — was 20 to 30 years older than I. It’s a nice spot, atop a hill, with no steps or stairs anywhere, perfect for people with mobility issues, (aka canes, walkers, even crutches.)

Since I developed early and bad arthritis in my left hip, I get it!

What I like most are the 80-year-olds here who are so stylish, funny and well-dressed. Marie, on my floor, has bouffant hair, great clothes and a booming laugh you can hear down the hallway. Even heading out to a doctor’s appointment, she looks terrific.

When she told me her age,  I laughed — I figured her 20 years younger. This has happened so many times in the elevator when I’ve spoken to white-haired women, (and it’s usually the women who are rocking it out) and found them fun, funny, engaging.

Old? Meh!

My Dad is 81, blessed with tremendous energy and health, and recently started making a documentary, his former career, working with scientists he introduced himself to. His partner is 74, slim, lovely, smart and has lived a life filled with adventure.

There are days I fear old age and there are days I look at the men and women I know who’ve blasted past the worst marker — 65 (if you make it that far, you’re good for a while, stats show) — and are still, healthy and solvent, enjoying the hell out of their lives.

They have surgery, they take meds, some walk slowly. But they’re in it.

I don’t look to the anorexic 15 year-olds in Vogue for inspiration, not that I ever did.

I look at Marie and women (and men) like her.

Do you have a fab elder in your life?

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

In behavior, design, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, Money, women on March 28, 2011 at 11:54 am
The 'Glasses Apostle' in the altarpiece of the...

Time for a new vision? Definitely! Image via Wikipedia

I returned home a few weeks ago after a three-week absence, the longest I had been away for a few years in one stretch.

I suddenly saw the bedroom, robin’s egg blue, with fresh eyes, and I wanted a change, a big one.

Now it’s soft, warm gray — the same color we’ve had in our small dining room for a few years. It’s the exact shade of cigarette ash, soothing yet clean and crisp without being cold. (It’s called Modern Gray from Sherwin-Williams and the owners of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie [one of my favorite stores] have the exact same color in their country home.)

One of the great challenges of everyday life is being able to see things with fresh eyes. It all starts to blur after a while into a haze of comforting, familiar, routine sameness.

Putting my mother into a nursing home jolted me — hard — out of this stupor.

I sat with her at dinner, a silent room filled with nodding gray heads, and came home desperately grateful for my sweetie’s laughter and loud music and even the noisy small baby downstairs.

We sorted through boxes of her belongings, lovely things she had acquired from all over the world, from hand-embroidered dresses from India to a folk art wooden animal she bought in London. I came home determined to toss everything without meaning or serious value to me, from my old wedding ring to the armoire that’s been in the garage for three years.

The cost of her care every month is as much as we, combined, earn. Now we’re looking into long-term care insurance.

What has sharpened your vision lately?

At A Loss For Words

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, parenting, women on February 22, 2011 at 6:41 am
A swarm of birds in the summer evening at Bitt...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been the most exhausting and emotionally wrenching week of my life.

This morning my Mom — the woman who’s lived alone in Lima, Bath, Roswell, NM, Gibsons, B.C., Toronto — who’s been from Nauru to Oaxaca — moved into one room, in a nursing home.

The woman who covered the Chicago Eight trial as a radio reporter, who cried on my 11th birthday the morning she served me blueberry pie in bed because Bobby Kennedy had been shot. The woman whose hair color changed almost daily in the 1960s thanks to a fab collection of wigs, and the confidence to pull it (them) off.

Whose collection of mantas, moles and delicate cashmere Indian shawls, collected on her travels, inspired my lifelong love of textiles and my own collection of them.

I joined her for dinner (served at an ungodly 5:00 p.m., with several of her dining room companions asleep at their tables) and kept her company as she ate a bit of beans and corn and pork. She didn’t like the meal or even the china mug her tea was served in.

Then we sat in her room and talked for a few hours. I asked about Edgar, a folk art animal she has owned for as long as I have known her; she bought him in London when we lived there. I showed her some recent winter nature photos I had shot.

And then I had to leave — and she gave me a dazzling smile.

We’re good at that, that stiff upper lip thing.

Beats crying.

Doesn’t it?

When Your Parent Needs A Nursing Home

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, Health, life, Medicine, Money, parenting, women, work on February 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm
The new driveway up to the nursing home.

Image via Wikipedia

Life, as you have known it, is done.

I’ve been facing this sudden reality for about the past two months. My divorced mother, 76, who lives in a very far away city in Canada — I am just north of New York City — now must move into a nursing home. I have someone there sharing power of attorney with me, but even so it has become an unpaid, draining, overwhelming, full-time job demanding almost daily decisions, all of them with major consequences.

None of which are anything I have ever faced before or have a frame of reference for.

I’m the only child.

If you have not yet entered this specific obstacle course, a few things you need to think about:

Does your parent have a will? Do you know where it is and who is the executor?

Have they, in advance, designated a power of attorney?

Do they, or you, have a written inventory of all their belongings and which they might want to keep when they have to trade a home for one room?

What do they want to do with all ephemera — photos, letters, documents? Have you or they sorted through it and identified what is important or of sentimental value? Identified who’s who in the photos?

Who will handle your parent’s affairs financially?

Do they have long-term care insurance? (Do you?)

Have you discussed any of this with your parent?

Do you have anyone, like a geriatric care manager, to help you if you are trying to deal with all of this from a distance?

Here’s what we’ve faced:

She fell in the hospital, breaking her hip in the emergency room

Surgery to repair her hip and months of rehab and physical therapy to regain strength and mobility

Another fall in the hospital, which protested there was no way they could prevent yet another one

Bowel surgery and a colostomy

She has COPD and heart problems as a result

She has early, for now, mild dementia and trouble with short-term memory

The learning curve is vertical!

These are just some of the many people I’ve spoken to in the past three months:

Two nurses, doctors (at least four, so far), physical therapist, occupational therapist, nursing home staff at four homes while seeking a suitable and available bed, hospital social worker, hospital risk manager, attorney, realtor, notary for the buyers for her apartment; auction house coming to appraise and sell her things; Salvation army for picking up the rest, movers to move her into the nursing home, airline (for my flight); car rental (for my visit), UPS (for packing and shipping back here whatever I can take or keep), bank staff to try and arrange handling of her finances…

The only thing keeping me sane is knowing many other women also going through this hell or who have already gone through it, and who kindly offer compassion, humor and advice.

It is a maelstrom of grief, fear, sadness, confusion, anger, frustration, loss. And the cost is staggering — $6,000 a month for one room. Yes, a nursing home room is definitely much cheaper elsewhere, but she is not physically able to move and emotionally would not want to as her friends are in this city.

Have you been through this?

How did you cope?

Nice Girls Finish Last — Financially

In behavior, business, Health, Money, news, parenting, women, work on November 18, 2010 at 1:06 pm
My Grandfather (†); photo from January 17.JPG

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a cheery reminder from a Globe and Mail story — Canada’s national daily — that women are screwed financially in old age if they devote their midlife time and resources, as many now do, to caregiving.

I’ve spent much of my workdays, (which is my only source of income as a freelancer), on the phone and email so far this week dealing with social workers, nurses and lawyers to discuss what happens next to my mother (divorced, few friends) who lives a six-hour flight away in Canada and who is now in the hospital.

It remains to be determined whether she will be able to return to living alone in her home.

As her only child, I can’t turn to anyone but my partner for help. We’re lucky she gets as much free government-supplied help and health care as she already does.

Another friend my age, a woman who is also a writer, devotes many hours every week cooking and caring for her in-laws. Her two sons, looking for work, are back at home.

We’re both very fortunate in having husbands and partners who earn a decent wage and, while our labor is necessary to the family income, it is not the primary or exclusive one.

(This lowered family income does not come without conflict. I could certainly earn more and spend less if I ignored my mother’s complicated needs.)

Every hour and dollar spent, lovingly or not, devoted to the care and needs of others is wage-earning (or re-charging) time lost to oneself or one’s other current and future financial needs.

The less money women earn (and we out-live men, statistically which means we need to earn, save and invest even more than men while typically working fewer years and earning less), the poorer our old age will be.

Caregiving often means financial disaster for the person giving it.

To whom does your duty lie?

What if your parent(s) were neglectful or abusive? Made lousy choices financially and with their health, and now, as a result of those choices, need (your) help to survive?

Too many of us are struggling in a terrible economy, with little or no leeway for our own needs, now and in the future.

What’s the answer?

Turn your back on your aging parents and/or your needy adult children?

Just say no?

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