Saturday, May 5, 2018

Don't Speak of Overcoats or Your Bowels

The old saw says, "You know you are getting old when you begin to talk about the state of your bowels."

As a young, newly employed elementary school teacher, my mother often would ask me, "When are you going to be a grown up and buy yourself an overcoat?"

At a garage sale we ran in Gregory's old architecture studio before we moved out of 2635 Poplar and into the condo in downtown Evanston; a much older customer lowered himself into a chair to rest from his shopping; making loud sighing, groaning, aching sounds as I am sure you have heard before. My friend Roger labeled those "Old Man Noises" and warned against making them ourselves.

It is said that "you are only as old as you think you are" and "old age is only a state of mind." It is said that if you "act old," you are old."

Well here I am, now 73 years old, ... and I am old! Born in 1945 for which you have to scroll down quite a way when filling out your age in an online form, it amazes me how many years there are in that list between when I was born and today!

I have to admit that I am more aware of my bowels, own an over coat, feel the aches and pains of "old man noises," and realize that short of thinking or feeling or acting old, the body has a mind of its own as it slows down, breaks down, lets you down.

When I asked my Podiatrist why my feet were in such bad condition, he replied, "It's like having a car for 73 years and never having changed the tires." I find I need to more carefully navigate climbing stairs.

My skin doctor tells me that dry skin and itching is normal for a person my age, so the lotion bottle has become a permanent fixture on the sink counter. 

At my yearly visits to the eye doctor, she talks about farsightedness (hyperopia) getting better and nearsightedness (myopia) getting worse which is usual as one gets older. My glasses prescription changes each visit. Also I must now keep an eye (so to speak) on my cataracts which are beginning to cloud.

While I usually do not talk about growing older, keeping it privately to myself, it is nice now and then to discuss the symptoms with friends of the same or similar age, just to compare notes to know that you are not alone in your years, and possible to learn something you did not know about living with the process.

One thing that happens as you get older, is that you go unnoticed. People are not attracted to you, are not sizing you up as a sex partner, are not necessarily interested in what you have to say. Even though you have given your best to society during your prime years, you are deemed somewhat useless now. The young do not understand who you are in today's world and you do not understand who they are.

I find myself saying the same words my parents used to say with dismay as well as at times with disgust, "This generation ... I just don't understand them!" Ironically, there are so many more things I now understand about my parents and the changes they went through as they aged, but hopefully I am doing it more gracefully having learned from them how not to get older.

They slowed down as I am. They used to entertain but then did less and less. My father refused to stand in line at a restaurant or movie theater. They did not like to attend functions with large crowds. They preferred eventually to not go out or dive at night. Me too, now!

With one example for me which is similar to those of my parents, let me talk about entertaining. In my prime, Gregory and I used to entertain a lot. Dinner parties, holiday events, helping family and friends celebrate birthdays. When my parents would visit from Florida, I would invite all the family and friends to visit the condo so mom and dad could get to see everyone without having to run all over Chicago for the short time they were here. 

Gregory was born on July 4 so we had open house, immediate world parties featuring appetizers, dinner, beverages, birthday cake and fireworks for 30-50 people. As Gregory's abilities diminished due to his dementia, I would take on the event single handedly. Eventually I asked our housekeeper be at the party to help out.

Now, even with fewer people attending (due to attrition, old age, and death) after a party at the condo I feel like I have been hit by a truck, beaten up in the alley, fallen down a flight of stairs. Instead of having everything cleaned up (even with Halina's help) by the time I head off to bed, I head off leaving the counters and sinks still filled with dirty dishes.

The next day I finish cleaning up but still feel black and blue, bruised, sprained. I'll take two naps instead of the usual one.

Which brings me to the joys of taking midday naps! I find that I "husband" (I love that word husbandry: the care of a household; the control or judicious use of resources : conservation) I husband my time and energy and only allow one major activity a day. If I have an evening engagement or a play to attend, that is all I plan on that day. If I go grocery shopping, after coming home and putting things away, I make no other plans. 

I used to run four or five or six errands at a time, then cook dinner, or go out with friend to dinner and a movie. Now ONE ACTIVITY A DAY and a nap thrown in! Naps are the luxury of the aged, the retired, and at times the wealthy!

People still tell me that I have an amazing amount of energy but if compared to when I was in my fifties, I would say that the amount of energy I have currently is about half of what I had then.

So in this essay, it has felt good to analyze what this thing called aging personally means to me. A little complaining, a little humor, a little enlightenment as I shed more awareness on who I am at this time of my life.

I will say that not a day goes by that I am not grateful (if not acknowledging it out-loud) for the life I live, for family and friends, for Emma and Gigi my cats, for my health, for my financial ability to have a comfortable life.

I miss my life partner, soul mate, best friend, husband Gregory. We were together for 41 years. He lived the last 12 of those with Dementia, most likely Alzheimer's Disease. He died close to three years ago. I miss him terribly and Grief still rears its head now and then when I least expect it, but I have grown and continue my life as a widow. This is also part of aging. We knew that one of us would die first, Gregory beat me to it!

I am aware, as I continue my studies in Buddhism, that "We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can’t relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased.:" —Pema Chödrön, "The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human  

Meanwhile, I embrace my old age, I embrace the fact that I will die. Meanwhile I'll have as much fun as my aging, decrepit body allows (knowing that it will continue to age and get more decrepit!)


  1. My mother called it the 'infirmities of old age.' I try not to think about mine, nor mention them in polite company.

    1. Thanks Jean. Good to see that you are still following me. I try not to think about or mention mine so decided to write one piece! Hope all is well.


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