Getting Old Isn’t for Sissies- A Story
We get too soon old and too late smart
~Old German Saying~
Elke often found herself thinking about her new situation. She was likely to fall into reverie in the early morning hours before the sun came up. She wasn’t so sure she liked her thoughts.
She was still quite independent, more so than most seventy-eight year olds could claim. She had her own home. She saw her friends. The few family members who remained visited her on a regular basis. She had always done her own shopping, did her own wash and cooked elaborate meals for her visitors.
Life had changed a few weeks ago. She landed on the floor, aware of a tight feeling in her chest, and found it hard to breathe. She later learned that she had a heart attack. This came as quite a surprise to her. She took pains to exercise, if only to walk on a daily basis. Well, almost daily. She was usually careful about what she ate. She did not go to the doctor much, but then she did not have much call to go.
It wasn’t that bad a heart attack, as such things go. Her doctor did not suggest surgery; although she was not sure what might happen with all those tubes and wires in her. She didn’t have to make many changes to her diet, but she did have to be more careful about salt. Just before leaving the hospital, she started cardiac rehab.
She had always thought of exercise equipment as pretentious. Who needed a treadmill when there were sidewalks? Who needed a stationary bike when there were bicycles which took her somewhere and gave her a view of something besides a video display or sweaty exercise fanatics?
Her doctor explained that the equipment allowed better monitoring and control of her exertion. This was important to make sure she did not overdo it and cause more damage to her heart. It seemed they wanted to measure and control everything about her now. It was hard to accept. Well, maybe they knew their business. After all, she paid them enough.
Elke stopped herself at that last thought. She said it out loud, “I paid them enough.” It sounded a little sarcastic. She had never thought of herself as sarcastic. Most of the people she knew who had a habit of being sarcastic were angry about something. Could she be angry?
She looked down at her fist and found it clenched. Hmm. As she opened her fist, she realized that clenching was not a one of her usual activities. Her arthritis had gotten a little worse in the last few years. What would have made her angry?
She thought again of all the things she still had: relative independence, a good mind, her cooking and sewing. Yes, they were all still there. She didn’t like to think about what was missing. Her husband had been gone for a long time. She was ready to let go of him but her bed was sometimes cold, and maybe a little lonely. She had male friends but never entertained the thought of sharing her bed again, except on the coldest of nights.
Her heart attack was not the first time her body had let her down. The hysterectomy was more a bother than a loss. Cataracts clouded her world but the surgery made her vision better than it had been in years despite having to get used to glasses. Gall bladder surgery meant she had to limit some of her favorite foods, but it was an incentive to eat healthier.
Elke had made the best of it except for the annoying arthritis which sometimes hurt and sometimes made small tasks quite difficult. But then, aspirin and swimming helped keep her arthritis at bay.
All in all, Elke thought she had always made the best of even trying situations. If anything, she might be angry with her body asserting its mortality in such a dramatic way. If she thought about it, she would realize that the battle would eventually be lost, at least physically. She didn’t like to think about it.
There was a time when she could not look beyond the mortal. When her husband died, she found comfort with an old friend, Jenny, who had also lost her husband. Jenny always seemed cheerful despite her loss. Elke finally asked her about her cheerfulness after puzzling over it for a while.
Jenny explained that the way she looked at life was as a loan from God. Good loaned some people just a little life and some much more. This had helped Jenny understand what others referred to as dying too soon. It was not too soon, but just the end of the time God had loaned them. Jenny saw each day as precious and was glad to have another chance to see the sun come up. Elke gradually adopted Jenny’s philosophy and learned to accept each day on its own terms and on God’s too for that matter. Still, getting old isn’t for sissies.
Life Lab Lessons
- However old you are, it’s better than the alternative.
- Accept the limits you have now.
- Make the best of the abilities you have left.
- Greet each new day with thanksgiving.
- Share what you have learned about with life with those you love.
From Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life by Joseph Langen