For many of us of a certain age (let’s say approaching our fifties, into our sixties and beyond), a new beginning has dawned: for the first time, we’re starting to feel, er, old. That never happened before! For the last five or so decades, feeling old wasn’t on our agenda. We were the go-go Baby Boomers, dedicated to challenging society with our youth, uppity ideas, and unlimited tomorrows.
Not much has changed, really. We still feel and think young. Well, yes, our ideas may be more mainstream now and our aspirations a little tamer, but really, until lately, we had no sense of our vulnerability or mortality.
Then, it felt as if overnight, our parents got old.
Once the vibrant center of our universe, our moms or dads or both began to stumble along the way, fall and then fail. It took them (and us) by surprise. Out of nowhere, there was: Mom with a broken hip, Aunt Beth with dementia and Dad with Parkinsons, living in a house with multiple stairs and no bathroom on the main floor.
No one had planned on anything changing, or doing anything different to make their lives safer or better as they aged. They hadn’t thought about it; they didn’t prepare. Nor did we for them.
Their decline went by fits and starts, or more accurately, by thuds and trips to the ER. Now Mom needs help with meals, Dad with showering and dressing.
We finally saw the writing on the wall: their lives were changing forever. Or not. A few siblings denied there was anything wrong or that we should do something. Family fights started to break out. Mom began requiring a lot more help, Dad wasn’t able to provide it and Medicare didn’t cover like we thought it would. We fumbled around wondering which direction to turn. This went on for six years. Then they died.
And that was that.
And then we realized its our turn next.
Creating a Good Old Age
Getting old isn’t like being a cute little baby and growing up. That part was our parents responsibility; this time it’s ours. If not us, who will plan for our needs?
The reality is, a good old age requires planning, preparation and understanding of whats likely to happen and how things work. Otherwise, getting old is like a game of roulette its a matter of luck whether you win or lose and the degree of loss youll face. Too many people in this country experience serious losses in old age when they could have avoided many of the common mistakes that come from ignorance and not thinking ahead.
Unlike our parents, we need to embrace both the positives and negatives of aging, to keep our eyes on the horizon. We each are allotted only one life, and this is it, including the third act. When we get together in the coming months, well explore some of the adventures for better and worse that lie ahead.
Liz Taylor, an eldercare specialist for 40 years, lives in the San Juan Islands, where she is semi-retired. She wrote a popular column on aging for The Seattle Times for 14 years, and has consulted with thousands of older adults and their families. Liz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org