Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Graying Of America

I received a Facebook message from one of my favorite former students today. His mom has Alzheimer's and his father is suffering because of it. With my mother's situation, I know what that family has endured. I wrote this on January 26, 2006.

We live in an aging population. Half of news broadcasts contain stories on Medicare or Social Security funding. Daily I see the effects of getting older. I live in a complex defined as a senior apartment community. A certain percentage of the leasers must retirement age. One of our faculty last spring was denied in her application because, due to the current age makeup of the population, she was too young- you know women love that! There are advantages to living here. The maintenance staff is wonderful and fast. Some problems, like air conditioner breakdowns, could become life or death for some of the aged. It is also VERY QUIET! Some of the amenities don't apply to me- bus rides to the grocery store or weekend bingo games in the clubroom. What bothers me is watching the aging process devastate my neighbors. Wheelchairs and walkers are standard equipment at the community mailbox. Oxygen carts accompany some residents wherever they go. One of my favorites is Louise. Every time I pass her apartment, the door is open and she calls out my name. I passed her apartment last week and for the first time, her greeting was muted and disconsolate. I backtracked and checked on her. In my eight years in Houston, Louise has never been less than feisty. She told me of unrelenting pain. There is nothing that can be done for her condition, a growth on the esophagus that curtails swallowing. I asked her age and found out she is eighty-four. Louise told me she is resigned to life in a nursing home even though her mind is sharp. I left with a feeling of profound sadness.

At age twenty-seven, Paul Simon wrote and sang an odd song with his partner, Art Garfunkel. We didn't have many records so we played this one to death, etching haunting words in my memory vault. (Shoutout to Dave for helping shape my musical tastes!) The album was Bookends, the song was Old Friends:

Old friends, old friends
Sat on the park bench like bookends.
Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears.

I wonder if Simon's perspective has changed in the thirty-eight years since he penned those lyrics? I observe the elderly and discuss the reality of aging with my students. Today, I had my sophomores write in class. Two paragraphs were required; What I Would Enjoy About Being Old and What I Fear About Being Old. The standard of old we used was between seventy-five and eighty years. The second paragraph for most was longer than the first and it seems girls look forward to retirement more than boys. I would guess their views are colored, by their relationships with grandparents. Enjoying life with family was included in the paragraphs of positives along with travel and relaxation. Death, disease, loss of independence, and loneliness were fears associated with their distant future. I was surprised not to see more mentions of financial insecurity and senility. The kids did a very good job. They can be wonderfully reflective when given the opportunity.

Several days ago, I received an e-mail from my first cousin, Marsha. Her dad's aunt just died as well as another first cousin's father-in-law. At our Chesshir reunion this summer, it became obvious the torch is being passed to the next generation. I don't feel prepared to accept. So many memories flood back during get-togethers on our grandparents' peach farm outside Nashville, Arkansas. Like my siblings and cousins, it's where I grew up, even if we only were present one week per year. I never knew Grandmother- she died young and I think Mom, in spite of Alzheimer's, still misses and mourns her. Grandpa was a classic, a true Southern gentleman. He was outwardly different than my mom but I can tell by the way she turned out that he was a terrific father. (Dittoes for the finished products of Aunts Evelyn /Jerry and Uncle Bill!) I was eighteen the last time I saw Grandpa. At Christmas my freshman year in college, I spent several days with him. He'd moved into town and it just wasn't the same as seeing him in his element, the farm. It hit me- he was old. That's tough for a teenager to come to grips with. I went through a Jerry Jeff Walker stage in college. Although I could never endorse his hard-drinking lifestyle, his songs choke me up. My favorite is Desperadoes Waitin' For A Train, penned by Guy Clark. One verse in particular IS my last memory of my Grandpa Chesshir:

One day I looked up, he was pushing eighty.
He got brown tobacco stains all down his chin.
To me, he's one of the heroes of this country,
So why's he all dressed up like them old men?

Both my grandfathers did what I will do, Lord willing, and that is grow old. I don't like to think about it. The scriptures never make false promises about our earthly bodies. Our flesh deteriorates even while there remains a beating heart and breathing lungs. But, we are also promised rewards for a productive life in the service of God: wisdom, honor that comes with silver hair, rest from labors, and a new home in a far away place! What could be more exciting than a retirement home with no wheel chair ramps or nurses on call? I am no prophet but I would guess there is no AARP in heaven. No need of senior discounts or prescription drug plans! And no more sad songs to make me cry!

Applicable quote of the day:
"To me, old age is always ten years older than I am."
Andre B. Buruch

To listen to Old Friends, click or copy-paste the link below:

God bless,
Steve (#2 chronological grandson of Jord and Ruth McClure Chesshir)
Luke 18:1

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Jon said...

must have a pretty big family if ure the 2nd chronological son

simply kim said...

yes, you really are nostalgic.. the problem with 'getting old' just like several others is that it is IRREVERSIBLE and the sad truth is that no amount of money can buy a few more days, much more years, to add to our lives. just like the typical others, i am also anxious to grow old. i don't like to think of how helpless i would be when that time comes, and the pain and discomfort associated with old age. but i think, i want it even less to think that i have lived my life without doing any thing for other people.

great post..

Stuff could always be worse said...

Yes I do understand those Grandparents and sentimental days...
I miss mine that have gone on.