Watching our parents age gracefully...Until they don't. Are we ready?

Scared. Worried. Anxious…that was me this week. My 87-year-old super healthy father was slurring his words on the phone, unable to complete some sentences.  I called my sister and said “call Dad I think something is wrong.” She did. She called me back. She agreed. We had inklings of it for a few weeks prior. She got things rolling and we had a conference call with his doctor.  We ordered all kinds of testing. The social worker from Bethany Village where he lives, had called my sister as well. He was concerned.   I flew to Harrisburg to take him to the testing. We were on a mission to find out what was happening with our father.

The results?

My Dad will live to see another day.  However, we are in our next phase with him.  Researching medications and monitoring his reactions to things.

My mother died after a long slow journey through Alzheimer’s.  Beth and I comfort ourselves each claiming my father’s DNA because he is so healthy and with it.   Frankly the alternative, having our mother’s DNA- sucks.

Am I relieved or just reprieved until the next incident?    It got me thinking.  There is a song that was released in 2015 called “Seven years” by Lukas Graham. I am sure you know it.  This song has 283,523,932 VIEWS on YouTube.  It’s all over the radio.   Listen to it. 


Seriously, if a song has 283 MILLION views means it is touching people somewhere.  It caused this feeling of angst in me. The kind of angst that keeps you up at night questioning when did all these years go by?  One day I am seven then I am sixty.   Do I feel a bit unnerved sometimes because I am not where I want to be?  Or am where I want to be? Did I take my life, the vessel and brain I was given and use it the right way- or not?  These questions spin my mind up and give me pause. 

There is a song by the Talking Heads titled “Once in a Lifetime”. “Once in a Lifetime" is a 1981 song by new wave band Talking Heads, released as the first single from their fourth studio album Remain in Light. It was named one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century by National Public Radio[4] and is also included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.



I have always liked the Talking Heads and I really like this song. Music Critic Steve Huey said, “one of the main themes of the lyrics is "the drudgery of living life according to social expectations, and pursuing commonly accepted trophies (a large automobile, beautiful house, beautiful wife)."[7] Although the singer has these trophies, he begins to question whether they are real and how he got them.[8] This leads him to question further the reality of his life itself, providing the existential element.

What I notice at Bethany Village, where my father lives, a three tiered retirement community, is when you get to be my Dad’s age you don’t care about the trophies.   They don’t care about their stuff because now they actually realize…none of it goes with them.  They get rid of it all.  What matters is whether their families come to visit, who they talk with as they hang out on the front porch and how they participate.  Other than that—they are on the downside of life. Regardless of their regrets if they have them, they don’t speak of them. They simply live.  They can’t go back at this point and make any big changes. They are where they are. Some are very active. I met one little old petite lady in the clinic.  She was a pistol.  Mad that the doctor was making her wait past her appointment time.  After all she was missing her Tai-chi class because of this delay. She was very engaged and taking full advantage of all Bethany Village had to offer. I imagine she was that way her whole life.  In fact, she called herself athletic which made me smile.  I have never met a woman in her mid-80’s call herself athletic! 

But while they cannot go back and makes significant changes-we can. We should if our lives need some changes.  We can make changes that make us feel valued, we can do things that allow us to give instead of take.  The choice is always ours.

Back to the Lukas song, “Soon I’ll be 60 years old…will the word feel cold”.  Dang.  I will be 55 this year.  Before I know it I will be 60.  Then 70 and then 80.  Time is getting away from me.  Then I say “Deep breath Jan, you got this.”

You begin to ask yourself—What did I do that mattered?  Did I give more than I took or did I take more than I gave?  Eek! 

Did I help other people when I could or did I say- another day.  Did I show hospitality to my family, friends and strangers or did I just show it to myself?  Did I model good behavior to my children or did I say “do what I say and not what I do"? Did I teach them to have integrity, to show compassion, to have a work ethic, to give back- to live their dreams?

Did I think outside the box, did I show my creativity, did I realize the world doesn’t revolve just around me?  Did I and do I, live my life on the other side of fear?  Do I engage as I am able?

“When you're young, you always feel that life hasn't yet begun—that "life" is always scheduled to begin next week, next month, next year, after the holidays—whenever. But then suddenly you're old and the scheduled life didn't arrive. You find yourself asking, 'Well then, exactly what was it I was having—that interlude—the scrambly madness—all that time I had before?”
Douglas Coupland, Life After God

Man, all these things are hard to do. Maybe the struggle with the racing thoughts and constant decisions about our lives are normal. Maybe the struggle is the gift. Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our direction. We are humans, we are flawed.  We want to do our best.  We have a choice and I hope at the end of my life I have made those choices well with my own integrity intact.

Trust me, being around the elderly will get you thinking real fast!   I do think it’s people and our interactions with them that ultimately make us recognize our own reflection.

I want to end with this quote about friendship and about loss. Again, because I have been so reminded of it this week in this environment.  These older people value their friendships and while they do they also experience much loss as the people basically die off.

“The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you. They remember that disastrous New Year's Eve when you mixed White Russians and champagne, and how you wore that red maternity dress until everyone was sick of seeing the blaze of it in the office, and the uncomfortable couch in your first apartment and the smoky stove in your beach rental. They look at you and don't really think you look older because they've grown old along with you, and, like the faded paint in a beloved room, they're used to the look. And then one of them is gone, and you've lost a chunk of yourself. The stories of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the tsunami, the Japanese earthquake always used numbers, the deaths of thousands a measure of how great the disaster. Catastrophe is numerical. Loss is singular, one beloved at a time.”
Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

 “Soon I’ll be 60 years old”.   What am I going to do with that?  What are you going to do with that?

Until next time.

Peace out.