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Growing Old Ain't for Sissies

"Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven't committed." Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Getting old has always been something that scares me. I don't want to age and truthfully, I hate seeing it in others because it reminds me of my own mortality and what little time we actually have on this planet.

When I was a little girl my dad used to take me to nursing homes on his rounds as a Lutheran minister to give communion to the old and dying. We would stop and say hello to people living there and some of the residents began to know me quite well. They were so lonely they would stash candy to reward me with if I stayed and talked to them. Of course, I obliged. My dad brought me along to show me what he saw; he wanted me to see how lonely they were. He pointed out that their family members almost never came to visit them... in his eyes, they were the forgotten. "Rachel, please don't ever do this to me when I get old." he would beg. I was no older than 4 and I was making promises to him that I would never abandon him to die alone.

Maybe this is why I fear aging and death.

Maybe this is why I freak out when people ditch animals in shelters once they're older and replace their dogs and cats with kittens and puppies... also, that's like a seriously evil thing to do.

When we get older, is when we need our family the most regardless of species.

My mom had a full shoulder replacement this month so I took a trip to Oklahoma to be a good daughter and help out. My parents are older, my dad is going to be 86 in a few weeks and my mom is 75 and their age is a contributes to the level of help and care they need. I was prepared for my mom's situation and that she would be in recovery but I wasn't prepared for what I witnessed with my dad. I've watched him age for a couple of decades now and more rapidly in the last 10 years but it was like someone pushed the 'lightspeed' button from the last time I saw him and it was hard to grasp how quickly his mind and body have deteriorated... in even a month. My dad is old... my fear is that he will die soon. My heart hurts. I don't like watching this.

My sister was flying into Oklahoma to also help out and our trips were overlapping. I was heading to the airport to go pick her up with plans to just meet her curbside. In my mind, it would be easier than parking the car and walking with my father through the airport because he's not very stable on his feet. Both my mother and father began to protest, "NO!!! We must go in! We don't ever NOT go in! Meeting at the gate is the right thing to do!" My mom wasn't coming along but she was not ok with curbside and made her southern twang heard. And I'm like "Gimme a break, this is 2018, no one takes it personally if you pick them up curbside.. in fact, it's more convenient for all parties involved. We're going to pick Becky up curbside!". I was determined to win. I'm the driver and the young, smart one here. I want it MY WAY!

And then a few moments later it occurred to me that maybe I was being a jerk. Maybe my dad wouldn't have many more opportunities to meet his kids at the gate in the airport. Who am I to rob him of that? So, I parked the car and in we went.

I accidentally parked much further away than planned which was a real bummer because I had to watch my dad walk much more than he's used to. And he has too much pride for a wheelchair or any type of assistance. So I held his arm and pretended it was because I needed him, my dearest dad, to escort me. His pride can be such an issue... so I had to put on a real show of not looking worried as he walked with his body looking so tippy I thought he was going to fall and hit his head. I also tried to hide the tears in my eyes that were beginning to well up. My father is aging... he can't really walk through the airport but he wants to be there when his daughter gets off the plane. One of the employees at the airport asked if he needed a wheelchair. At that single moment, I was glad he's hard of hearing or it would have pulled the curtain on everything. My dad needed to walk to greet Becky and there was no stopping him. *BAWLING*

Can you relate to this with your own family members or with your furbabies?

My sister has a senior dog at home, Olive. She has said numerous times that it's a privilege watching Olive age because our furbabies are usually taken by disease first. She's right. So my sweet Niece, Olive, reminds my sister a lot of my dad, "Come hell or high water, you are taking me for a walk!" and so they do. The walks are slow and short.. but they happen. They happen because they're not for my sister or her wife, they're for Olive!

Growing old ain't for sissies and one of the worst thing we can do for our senior family members is taking the things away from them that bring joy into their lives. If they want a walk, take them on a walk... even if it's a painfully slow one. If they want to ride in the car, go out in the stroller or eat some of your chips, dammit, give it to them. Play them their favorite music, let them have the fluffiest blankets, laugh at their awful jokes (clearly this one is about my dad) and entertain them by listening to the stories they've told you a million times (again, this one is about my dad) because one day, they won't be here and you'll wish you had.

My soul companion, Holly, died when she was 20. I remember all the annoying things she did like meow incessantly to have the bath water turned on for her so she could watch it drip and take occasional sips. I would do anything to have that meowing back in my life. And even though my dad's stubbornness and pride can be nervewracking, I know that one day, it will also be something I miss.

Watching someone age is hard but it is also a privilege so be there and be present.

This last weekend I went to a Halloween party and ran into a lovely woman whose senior dog I've worked with. She said that because she doesn't know when he'll leave this world, but she fears it's soon, she tells him she loves him every time she leaves the room, which can be 15 times a day.

When I left Oklahoma, I hugged my dad goodbye. My dad has never been much for hugs but I forced a second one on him anyway... I can be stubborn too. ;)

Is it possible for furbabies to be stubborn? Umm.... yea

Is it possible that they too have pride and don't want to be carted around in wheelchairs? Maybe.

As they age, do they start to feel trapped in the house or in their bodies? Probably.

...just things to think about.

There are many ways to say, 'I love you'

There are many ways to say, 'I care about you'

Many ways, many ways

Many ways to say, 'I love you'

There are many ways to say, 'I love you'

Just by being there when things are sad and scary

Just by being there, being there

Being there to say, 'I love you'

~Sylvan Esso

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