Many of my middle-aged friends are unfortunately experiencing the same problems I faced a few years ago before my parents passed away. Their once vibrant folks have reached old age, but still insist on living as if they were 20 or 30 years younger. If this just meant they wanted to drink, dance and have lots of sex it would not be an issue. But it appears that as you become elderly one of your main desires is to maintain your freedom by doing the things you’ve always done, even if you can’t really do them anymore. Admirable goals, but impractical for most people, and the attitude can create havoc on the children’s lives.
Case in point….my mother and father continued to drive, legally, until they were almost 90 years old. Despite the fact that both could barely walk, had trouble turning their heads from side to side, suffered from occasional dementia, and were very hard of hearing, the State of Montana felt it was OK for them to pilot a 4400 lb. car down the road at 70 miles an hour. Of course this terrified the entire family, and we did everything short of stealing the car to keep them off the road, but they remained adamant about their right to drive. On many occasions I would explain in horrifying detail the implications if they harmed themselves, or even worse, hurt other people. “Dad, do you really want to go into the twilight of your life knowing you wiped out some wonderful young family just because you insisted you should drive”, I would plead.
“Oh, don’t worry”, he would just reply, “we really only drive back and forth to the grocery store”, as if they couldn’t possibly encounter another car or pedestrian on the say to Safeway.
They also remained steadfast in their desire to live alone, despite the fact that they were past the point of caring for themselves. They absolutely rejected the idea of going to some kind of assisted living facility. That seemed a legitimate position, as the idea of leaving your home would frighten anyone. But they also refused to allow anyone in the house to help them. I hired cooks, maids, nurses and caretakers – only to have my father fire them all a week or two later. “We don’t like people in the house”, he would explain. Which was actually code for “we would rather you and your sisters take care of us”.
Don’t misunderstand. This is not a blog bitch about my parents. They were terrific and I miss them every day, and most of the elderly I meet share their attitudes. But it has occurred to me that as you get older you don’t always get smarter. Sometimes you get stubborn and silly attitudes about life that have a really negative impact on others. So, I decided to write myself a letter, to be opened if I am lucky enough to make it to age 80 –
Dear Tim –
Wow, you’re still around. I would have never guessed. Anyway, a few suggestions. Get a good ear and nose hair trimmer. For some reason old men sprout huge growths of hair out of those orifices, and it is really unattractive. Also, pajamas and your robe are not daytime attire. Old age is not an excuse to be sloppy. Get up in the morning, take a shower, and put on clean clothes. You’ll feel better and everyone else will appreciate it. You used to ask yourself “what would Sean Connery do in this situation”. Still good advice.
Do they still have cars? Unless you have gone through some kind of “Six Million Dollar Man” refurbishment you probably shouldn’t be driving one. If you can’t do ten jumping jacks, see and hear as well as you did 15 years ago, and swivel your head easily each way, you should not be behind the wheel of a car. Take a cab, or better yet take a walk if you can. And don’t use the excuse that “I’m different”, or “I will only drive a few blocks”. Even though you are old it is not your right to endanger other people.
Another point. Just because you are old don”t expect your family to wait on you. I can guarantee you nobody wants to bathe or clothe your old bones or clean your house. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone. You always liked hiring people anyway. Don’t be a pain in the ass asserting your independence by taking away someone else’s.
Try to be a wise old sage, not a grumpy old man. And don’t be cheap. That rainy day you’ve been saving for? It’s raining.
Have a drink. Shaken not stirred. That’s what Sean would do.