Actually, living this long has been a surprise to both my parents. Mom turns 91 in July and so far holds the longevity record in her large family, of whom she has only two siblings left.
NEW ORLEANS – Actually, living this long has been a surprise to both my parents. Mom turns 91 in July and so far holds the longevity record in her large family, of whom she has only two siblings left.
“We never thought about it,” she says. And with Dad’s taking retirement on disability back in 1961, I assure you he never thought about living this long either. No one would have given him a chance.
Driving home from spending Easter weekend with Mom and Dad, I began reflecting on what life is like for them now that they’re in their 90s. Their circumstance is probably the same story for a lot of others in their age group.
Each day is pretty much the same. You don’t feel like going anywhere, and even the occasional trip to the doctor is a big deal. So you stay at home. It’s the only place you want to be.
You know all your doctors, nurses, and druggists as intimately as you do family members. In their case, the home health nurse arrives on a published schedule and Mom usually has lunch waiting on her.
With the excellent health insurance they carry through Dad’s lifelong involvement with the United Mine Workers of America, their co-pay at the druggist is a whopping 10 cents.
Whatever frustrations they have in their lives, my parents have no complaint about their medical insurance, and we’re blessed by that.
The arrival of the newspaper and the morning mail are the high points of your day. And on those days when the mail carrier zooms past without stopping, you feel a little cheated. “Did she forget us?”
The first thing you check in the newspaper – before anything, headlines, anything – is the obituaries. Increasingly, you know fewer and fewer people who have died. They’re all younger than you now, some by decades. You can recall when you knew almost everyone in the obituaries, but by now you have outlived all your contemporaries.
In your conversations with one another, one phrase keeps popping up with regularity. “Is he still living?” You bring up friends from the past with whom you lost contact years ago and wonder about them. Mostly you do not ask where he lives or what’s she’s doing. Just if they’re still alive.
Every thing in your body hurts and they don’t make enough medicines to stop it all at the same time. Sometimes you find it easier to stay in bed all day and try to sleep than to get up and deal with the aches and pains and treatments.
You’re glad to have company so long as they don’t come too often, talk too fast, or stay too long.
No food has much taste. You eat just to stay alive and usually in small amounts. Going out to a restaurant is like punishment.
You talk of Heaven occasionally, and your eyes mist up quickly. Dad said, “It’s like the old story of the woman on the ship that was sinking in the Atlantic storm. They asked why she wasn’t afraid and she said, ‘I have a daughter in New York and one in Heaven. Whatever happens, I’ll soon be seeing one of my daughters.’”
I think it was Edith Schaeffer who said her father always wanted to live to be 90. “He managed it,” she said, “but he lived to regret it. His last years, his wonderful mind and personality were imprisoned in a body that no longer worked.”
Watching Dad trying to get his breath sometimes – he has black lung, the coal miner’s nemesis – I can sympathize.
They still have their sense of humor. Mom laughs easily at jokes and will tell one if it occurs to her. Dad said, “I was baptized in that little creek over toward Nauvoo. Ever since, they’ve called it Blackwater.”
My folks’ address is Carl and Lois McKeever, 191 County Road 101, Nauvoo AL 35578. Don’t go out and buy a card. A hand-written note is fine, if you want to write them. Tell them your favorite Scripture or a story about your own parents or grandparents. Or a joke; they’ll like that.
We used to make a joke in the family about all of us aging alongside our parents. We’d tease about all going in together and purchasing our own nursing home.
“We’d have a family court in the middle and each of us would have our own wing coming out from the center.” No one is laughing much about that any more.
Growing old is not for sissies.
Joe McKeever is director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.