Tag Archives: aging

ADAPTATION

chimps laughing 2

My husband and I watch BBC’s Planet Earth on his small flat-screen. It’s about primates, some of whose names I’ve never heard. Names like Tarsier, Aye-aye, and Diademed Sifaka. David Attenborough wanders the planet, showing where the various apes live, how they survive.

We sit close on my husband’s single bed or, when my bent knee aches,we stretch out side-by-side, squeezing in as best we can. I miss this cuddling, this physicality. Following his two major surgeries and the slow onset of his dementia, I can no longer look after him at home. Luckily, his facility is a good one, clean, friendly and close by. His room is warm, but we huddle together regardless.

Attenborough shows us the Aye-Aye of Madagascar, In captivity, several types of olfactory clues were observed, including buccal (cheek) marking in which the aye-aye’s cheek is rubbed on an object.”

I smile, noting how often I stroke Don’s cheek with the back of my hand, especially in the car when hugging won’t work.

The camera moves on to the Snow Monkeys of Honshu, Japan. Don laughs at their antics, a full-on whoop, disproportionate to the occasion, but I don’t mind. As long as he’s happy. He doesn’t hear well, often talking over Attenborough’s commentary, but as I listen, I’m impressed with the way these northern-dwelling primates snuggle together in lanky treetops, huddling for warmth during the sub-zero nights.

“Twenty below!” I exclaim loudly, giving Don the short version.

“Wow!” he responds. “Now that’s cold!”

They have old-man faces, these Snow Monkeys, and double-thick fur for insulation. Watching them amidst the falling snow, we feel even cozier in our warm room.

Don seems engrossed throughout the program. His laughter is my tonic, but I know he’s a skilled pretender, ready to applaud anything he thinks may like. Chimps can deceive and empathize too. But what we watch isn’t the point anyway. It’s what we share. We can still be together, physically and emotionally. We can still laugh; we can still bond.

Attenborough wanders among the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar.They also huddle together for warmth, adorable in their white faces and kohl-dark eyes. The commentary says they’re female-dominant and active only during the day. They have long snouts and wet noses.

“Like you!” I say, wiping his own beak with a Kleenex. He laughs, aware that it tends to drip.

At the moment, he sits on his bed while I gently stroke his back and shoulders, communicating love while receiving it back through his trust. He drinks the Starbucks coffee I brought while continuing his delighted comments about the program. His happiness comforts me.

We survive – he and I – as the apes do, by adaptation. We may not forage for food, but we do scrounge for affection. That never changes. Together forty-five years, we’re well-attuned to the other’s emotional climate and have learned to trust in the other’s regard. Of course, there have been difficulties, serious ones. But in these final years, only the love matters. All else has fallen away, eclipsed by our need to see one another to the end, to guard jealously our time together. I can’t help but wonder how long we’ll have even this limited contact. At the same time, I thank all the stars that I recognize its value.

Attenborough moves on. In a wildlife orphanage in Zambia, chimps mourn the death of a friend. Don and I watch in silence as the apes sit for fourteen minutes with Thomas, the dead chimp, alternately sniffing and touching him. They neglect even fresh food, so caught up are they by grief and the great mystery of death.

We humans struggle to prepare for death, to achieve peace of mind as we age. Sitting with Don, I realize we have it now, at least in part. Peace comes with full commitment; it’s impossible to love this deeply and still wonder about life’s meaning.

Love is why we’re here.

 

A FRIEND IS COMING…

walker

This is not primarily a funny piece – quite the opposite. But I’m adding it here anyway, as I have nowhere else to put it. (mn)

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He sits in his four-wheeled walker, facing the facility entrance. His wander-alert bracelet sets off the alarm if he comes closer, and after many breaches, my husband knows this. So he waits just out of range, beyond the lobby carpet.

As I approach the glass doors from outside, I see him, twenty feet back, where the linoleum starts. He’s bouncing up and down a little and waving. His vulnerability pains me. I’m all he has, and we both know it.

There’s no question that I’ll always be there. He is my once-strong partner, my manly trucker, a legend on Vancouver’s docks for solving truck-loading problems for his company. Like the oversized glass panels that had to be mounted on specially-designed racks. He designed those racks, and they’re still used today by local trucking companies.

You should have patented those,” I told him.

Nah…I just did it to help out the guys.” And he had.

Now that inventive mind can no longer think logically or remember what he just said or what he had for lunch half an hour ago.

How can he bear it?

How can I?

The automatic doors swing open for me and I feel guilty; he can’t understand why he cannot come and go as I do. But he endures it, as he endures all else in this place. He is a marvel of adaptation, sunny and cheerful, never blaming me for putting him here.

Why isn’t he angry at this sudden turn of fate? How can he remain so forbearing with me and others? Why doesn’t he resent being so frail? He’s not completely befuddled, so why is he not depressed? My theory is that he feels safe here. And he doesn’t think about himself much. It’s a wonderful quality.

The friendly, young receptionist smiles as I pass by her desk by the entrance door. I can see that she has something to tell me.

He told me ‘a friend’ was coming,” she chuckles. It’s a small joke, unwanted, perhaps, but bearable. He’s never referred to me as “a friend” before.

It’s alright, I tell myself. But it hurts a little. After 45 years together, it hurts.

It’s another measure of how I’m losing him.

I’m 75 years old!” he tells people proudly.

Yes, you are. And you’re frail, too. These are my thoughts.

Right now, I hurry forward, in case impatience makes him cross the alarm barrier. He’s already standing, bobbing up and down with arms outstretched. I wrap my arms around him and we hold each other tight for a long moment, whispering sweet nothings, reassuring one another and ourselves. Only twenty-four hours have passed.

After disarming the wander-alert, I call him forward and we exit together. He pushes the walker while waving to the receptionist. He’s out of ‘San Quentin’ at last, as he calls it, and for the next two hours, we’ll drive around, laughing and talking nonsense, stopping off at Tim Horton’s for a hot chocolate in the car. Best of all, for him, will be smoking two or three cigarettes in the motorized warmth. It’s a complete luxury for him, as the “home” allows only ten per day, taken outside in the freezing cold. The car is much better; it has become his refuge, a cozy place where he can smoke at will, travel the city streets and be with me. It has become our gypsy caravan.

I just love driving around like this!” he often exclaims. “I could do it all afternoon.”

And if it weren’t for my sciatica, so could I.

I Should Have Listened to Dear Old Auntie

 

mink-stole-grannyWhen one is eighteen, who thinks the elderly know anything? Very few, and certainly not me. Turns out they do know a thing or two. But back then, I looked askance at the aged. And because I didn’t listen to my dear old aunt, I now have terrible posture, muscle pulls and occasional neck problems.

“Such a lovely girl!” she would say to my mother, while pressing her fingers deep into into my lower back, “Stand up tall, dear. You’ll be sorry later on if you don’t. There now! Tuck in that tummy!” She herself stood ramrod straight and wore elegant below-the-knee pencil skirts with matching jackets. She also wore “fascinator” hats, high heels and clever little mink stoles, the kind with pointy faces and beady eyes still attached. She and my uncle lived in the then-very-elegant West End, among chock-a-block apartment buildings (highest density in Vancouver). He was a dredging foreman until he retired, at which time he played cards for money once a week (He once played poker with Elvis Presley….no lie!). Auntie always made sure Uncle was well-turned-out, and in her copious free time, maintained an avid membership with the “ladies who lunch” set. An elegant pair, to be sure.

But about posture, she was right. Now 68, my spine curves where it shouldn’t, stemming from years of unregulated slouching, and my sciatica flares up like a brush fire. And since computers, the slouching has only worsened. Because I didn’t listen, not only do I have bouts of sciatica, but I frequently get a pulled hamstring from weak core muscles. Why not? I’m not using them to maintain good posture, so of course they go slack! In fact, I figure the only reason I can still walk is that I swim several times a week. The time it takes to dress and undress at the pool, to shower and shampoo, to pack and unpack, drive and organize….all this is bearable only due to the increased sense of well-being I feel after pounding out 20 or more laps (er….lengths, I’m told, not laps. There’s a difference). Not to mention the glory of the hot tub afterward and the blasting of strong water jets onto that sciatic devil nerve. I come out of the pool feeling supported. My legs feel strong and foundational.

Still, I’m a champion sloucher in the off times. Never gave it a thought when young – never had to. I was athletic, enough said. That seems to have changed a tad. Now I must counter the effects of my bad slouching habit. Every morning I must ease my aching bod onto the floor and coax those hamstrings into relaxation; I must stretch those quads, work the adductors and build those abs so that I may be afforded the great privilege of continuing to walk. And believe me, at 68, it IS a privilege.

Who knew it would come to this?

UP A LAZY RIVER

Good news – the traditional rec centre pool is now borrowing fun ideas from water parks and re-sparking all kinds of interest. How, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. They’re installing “lazy rivers” or “current channels” for added fun and  self-driven water therapy. My pool now has a current channel, separate from the main pool, and this feature alone has motivated me to visit three times a week, both to swim laps in the regular pool and to goof around afterward in the bath-warm “river”. What a godsend!

My favoured “river” snakes around in a loosely-shaped figure eight, with overhead water sprays of varying intensity, just like the ones at the water parks. You can float on a pool noodle or exercise your lower back muscles with long strides against the current, which threatens to knock you over at every turn. What fun (not….I prefer to walk with the current). Or you can massage that aching shoulder under a punishing torrent of water. Heaven!

You might think a ‘lazy river’ is just for arthritic old fogies. This may be true in the early mornings, when we oldsters flop around in the waist-high water like aging sea lions, chatting up other fogies and comparing arthritic ailments. Who else would be at a swimming pool at 6 am?

But the lazy river isn’t just for seniors. On Saturday afternoons at our pool, there are more kids in the current channel than in the main pool. This is at least partly due to the giant overhead bucket, which slowly fills with water and then hits critical mass, tipping suddenly and dumping two tons of water on the throngs below. The kids squeal, but they love it. They circle the channel and come back for more.

I was always a reluctant swimmer, given the changing/showering/cold air aspects of it all. With the advent of the lazy river, though, I’m a convert, putting up with all the dressing and undressing for a shot at that snuggly-warm current that is the lazy river.

Does this ballet make me look fat?

Is it just me, or is ballet getting boring?  ( I hear my husband snort, “getting???” )
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I’ve always loved ballet, but last night’s performance of the Miami City Ballet in Vancouver left me strangely cold and totally out-of-step with cries of “bravo” bouncing around our city’s now-aging Queen E. Theatre. Such effusive reactions gave me pause. Bored by the ballet, I must be old and “past it”.  But no…..I have thrilled as recently as last October to paintings by the masters in L.A. and still enjoy So You Think You Can Dance. So it can’t be that.
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Why then was I bored? The dancers seemed too young, for one thing. Average age arguably 23, hardly old enough to vote, let alone to transfer any kind of life experience onto the stage. I found it distressing to wonder if they’d been chosen for their looks. They had uniform age, uniform height and weight, uniform pony tails (in the women) and uniform metro-sexuality and hair colour in the males. More importantly, some of  the unison work seemed raggedy, one or two dancers struggling to keep up and others too often telegraphing their next moves. There were few smiles and little emotion….faces often seemed frozen in concentration.
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But my God, they were beautiful!  In fact, seldom have I felt so old and so fat as I did during this parade of ingenues and callow youths. These dancers seemed hollow….vacant, even. It was difficult to tell one from another. Sadly, they resembled Eloi, the vacuous post-human race in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (see also the 1960 movie version). They came and went with blank faces. To quote Gertrude Stein, “there was no there, there”.
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Maybe I was in a mood.
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Or maybe last night’s enthusiastic audience was also young, beguiled by the evening’s theme….a homage to the choreography of George Balanchine, famed director of the New York City Ballet and a proponent of the neo-classical style. This company prides itself on keeping Balanchine at the fore, a laudable aim, no doubt. But I think I’m just tired of classicism, neo or otherwise. I no longer want tutus and delicate feminine flutterings, unless it’s the Bolshoi (they can do anything they like).
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Give me intensity and passion, not delicate tracings.
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The Miami company is 50-strong, with 8 new members this season and 4 new graduates from the Miami City Ballet School. Could this have contributed to the greenness I sensed? I wish them well, but I fear I won’t be making a return visit anytime soon.

Who the heck is Seth Rogen?

Maybe it’s my age, but I’m noticing a new celebrity phenomenon. Sort of a personal non-phenom, actually. What I mean is, suddenly there are stars going viral (as ’twere) – stars of whom I’ve never heard (er..never heard of). Like Seth Rogen. I kept hearing his name, over and over. “Who IS this person?” I asked myself. Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I googled him. Turns out he’s “a Canadian actor, screenwriter, comedian, producer and director.” He began in standup.  Now, of course, he’s titanium, what with his part in The Interview and all. Not that I’d ever see it, North Korea notwithstanding.

I do try to keep current, going to movies, watching the AMAs, the Academy Awards and Emmys, listening to pop radio. Some of the stuff is excellent, so it can’t be my age. But it keeps happening: Seth Meyers (another Seth!), Zac Efron, Patrick Dempsey, Colin Farrell, Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Lautner. These are all stars I’ve had to Google. How sad! Once I knew them all as they reached mainstream fame. Now, thanks to niche movie-making, there are whole genres whose names are Greek to me. I don’t discover the young hotties spawned and developed only for teen flicks. For example, to know Trevor Lautner, I’d have to watch The Twilight Saga. Yikes. To get acquainted with Colin Farrell: Fright Night and Horrible Bosses. Double yikes. To recognize Seth Meyers: SNL , The Office and The Mindy Project. Yikes x 3!

So I guess it makes some kind of sense. Movie audiences get younger and less sophisticated; so do their movies. The celebrities go along for the paycheque. It’s the New Way of Things.

As long as it’s not “my age”, I can live with it.

MY WAR ON TEA

Tea, tea, the musical fruit….oh, wait…that’s beans. But who can keep it straight, when “tea cachet” in gourmet circles now rivals that of baked kale chips? Tea is even gaining on cute-cat videos for social media clout. It’s infiltrated YouTube; a search for “tea jingles” brings up oodles: Dixie Tea, Berqa Tea, Ahmad Tea. And Lipton has a whole history of crappy tea jingles, perusable on Google. Tea lurks everywhere – in ads, in junk mail, at Chapters, in gift packs, at Starbucks (!!). There’s the infamous Tea Party in politics and a made-in-Canada Tea Party rock group.

I ignored the trend until it began to affect my personal space. Now my “of an age” girlfriends come for Games Night and what do they want to sip while playing Taboo and Pictionary? Tea! Not sherry, not wine, not Diet Pepsi or Pellegrino. They want TEA. Quelle hassle! Find the kettle, fill it, plug it in, wait 10 long minutes and endure a screeching whistle. Then….find the teapot, wash off tea stains from 5 years ago, let the hot water warm it….find four matching tea cups….I tell you, tea-making goes on and on. Give me Perrier or Diet Lemonade any day.

To make things worse, I’m forced to act pleased when “the girls” bring special tea treats. Not content with Orange Pekoe, they now hanker for herbal teas, black teas, green teas, chocolate teas and some horror called rooibos. As a non-tea granny, I’m bloody sick of it all. It’s come down to “me or the tea” at my house. I won’t serve it; I won’t drink it (it’s like warm piss).

Tea even chases me in restaurants; the absolute worst (for me) is going out for oriental food and having to drink PLAIN GREEN TEA. No sugar, no milk. JUST PLAIN TEA.

What’s a princess to do?