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Concerning Eeyore and Rocinante

So you remember Eeyore, the depressed donkey that was always gloomy and morose in the Winnie the Pooh books? I've been ruminating upon him lately, because I bet the poor old bastard had arthritis.

I know someone who had bariatric surgery specifically because they did not want to end up like a relative of theirs, who had become fatter and sicker and simultaneously very grumpy and unpleasant to be around as they got older. My own mother had a lot of pain and discomfort towards the end of her life, which contributed greatly to her irritability and unhappiness and isolation.

It's a big fear of mine... that as I age, I will get fatter and creakier and sicker and as a result of all this, I will also become lonelier and meaner.

There's a woman who I've been working with lately who has brought up these fears sharply. She's about the age my mom was when she died (mid-70s), and she's only a little more mobile... walks very slowly with a cane. She's a marvelous calligrapher and artist, and very generous with her knowledge and supplies. I know she's lonely and doesn't get out much. For a while, I was going over to her house weekly for "lessons," but really I was trying to clean her house (which would not be at all out of place in an episode of Hoarders). I took at least a quarter ton of garbage out of her place (I am NOT exaggerating), and that was just the obvious trash... she won't let me touch the huge piles of books, dvds, clothes, cooking items, etc. that fill her home. After a few months, I became overwhelmed and angry at her middle-aged son who lives with her (he pays no rent, has no job, talked her into footing a 10-grand student loan for a degree he didn't finish, and is a total slob), and had to give up trying to beat back the tide of detritus that washed up every time I walked in.

So now I drive her to our monthly scribal meet-ups. The moment I see her, she lets loose with a litany of aches and pains, rails against all the perceived slights she's received from her employers/doctors/family members/utilities, and complains bitterly about her horrible financial situation. When I can get her to talk about calligraphy and illumination, she clearly lights up and her passion shines through. But it's a losing battle... no matter what I say, it reminds her of another company trying to rip her off, or lawsuit that she wants to file, or rude thing her in-laws did to her. She is also extremely fat-phobic, though she has never directed her ire against obesity directly at me... but she blames her weight for all her pain, and when I tried to explain the idea that maybe it was the other way around (her body became inflamed and gained weight as a protective measure against her health issues), she flat out disbelieved me.

Part of me wants to try to keep helping her, and another is screaming "Run away!" It feels like my efforts to help are totally useless against the chaos, and my attempts at keeping a conversation cheerful are fruitless.

A long time ago, a friend told me that the things that irritate us the most in other people are the things that irritate us the most about ourselves. I definitely see that I am flat-out terrified of becoming this woman... widowed, in pain, terribly lonely, living in horrific filth, being taken advantage of, broke, immobile, hating my body and myself. And it makes me want to not give up on her, that there's got to be some hope of overcoming this situation, because I need to know that I will be able to overcome it when it's my turn (and the way my body has been behaving lately, it feels like I'm going to bump up against it sooner than later). There's also more than a little guilt when I avoid her, because my own mother pushed me away for her last few years and after she died, I was the one who cleared out her rooms and barn filled with junk and garbage... and plenty of signs about how desperately lonely and unhappy she was.

I know this story is playing out all over, starring America's elderly. Our communities are broken, and the nuclear family model paired with our idolization of "independence" have set the stage for a generation of really messed-up old folks. There's one who is a member of my garden who drives me (and other gardeners) bananas, and friends my age have been struggling with their aging/dying hoarder parents who are in similar situations.

So, my middle-aged friends, my croning sisters and greying brothers... how are you dealing with this? How can we prepare for aging gracefully? How about when we are in a lot of pain? How can we prevent sinking into a morass of possessions that swallow us whole? I know my kids are all headed different directions and not interested in living near me (and I wouldn't want them to curtail their explorations just to keep me company). And I AM looking forward to having an empty nest someday, a studio to create in again, my own kitchen fiefdom to rule. Cohousing isn't an option in most places... should we start our Rocinante somewhere?

I have no answers, just oodles of questions, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2015 09:07 am (UTC)
One idea I've seen is the "virtual village", constructing local community to support people staying in their homes while getting some connection and help from volunteers in the neighborhood. The one where we are is http://nestseattle.org/about-us/ , and I ought to do something with them...

I don't have experience to know what this does for the problems people have. I am a bit worried it would help the people with small problems and not be equipped to deal with the big problems -- but small is a start, at least. Maybe it could help some people from spiraling downwards.

Nov. 17th, 2015 03:29 pm (UTC)
That looks very interesting! Thank you for mentioning it. Maybe there's something similar here...
Nov. 17th, 2015 11:15 pm (UTC)
Seemingly small assistance can be huge, in terms of quality of life and prevention of problems - the first example that popped to mind: if the organization handyperson changes the bulb in someone's porch light, the elderly resident hasn't stood on a ladder (or worse, a chair), and the steps are better lit. Double fall prevention.
Nov. 17th, 2015 11:11 pm (UTC)
Beacon Hill village in Boston was the original of the stay in your home with communal help idea, but there are lots. If you read "Being Mortal," by Atul Gawande (and everyone should), there are stories about a number of options.

I can't imagine that in the alleged good old days people who were frail and in pain weren't cranky. The hand-wringing about people being neglected by their distant children irritates me. The estimates of the number of people doing unpaid care-giving in the US is forty million plus. Not all of those are boomers with elderly parents (some of them are probably elderly parents whose boomer children have cancer, just for one example), but everyone I know who still has parents is working on the best way for the parents to have care and love. Some people admittedly are doing so by throwing money rather than time at the problem, but it's my experience that many people are doing both.

To another of your points, though, my father's VA social worker told us that we are lucky that my parents have not be taken in by scams. She spend a lot of her time dealing with old guys who have been
cheated by those who target the elderly (at least some of whom can't read the fine print, even if there is any).
Janet Hardy
Nov. 18th, 2015 02:54 am (UTC)
A friend who's about my age is planning to place a tiny home in the back yard of her large Victorian, so she can move into the tiny home and rent the Victorian out to a family who can keep an eye on her.

E and I are planning to convert the top story of our house into a caregiver apartment that we can offer rent-free to someone who can help with the physical tasks this place requires, as well as to keep an eye on E when I'm traveling (if I'm still traveling by then; if not, to keep an eye on both of us).

Of course, these are both solutions for homeowners - but maybe they'll act as sparks for some other ideas?
Nov. 18th, 2015 06:52 am (UTC)
There are geriatric housing solutions. There are any number of places where one can get a condo and get help ranging from zero to nursing care. (Usually you have to buy in while you are relatively healthy, and, usually they do require some investment. However, usually they also provide perks like classes, community, and communal meals so you don't have to cook every one for yourself.)
I have so much respect and admiration for my aunt and uncle who moved to one BEFORE they became so disabled that it was hard to make the move or make the decision.
Of course, the ones I'm familiar with seem like condominium buildings, but I can imagine that there are other options - small cabins, etc.
Nov. 18th, 2015 06:59 am (UTC)
I think part of the key is to not avoid the issue. I don't think it is too soon to invest in our health so we are healthier when we are older. This might include paying attention to our mental health.

I don't think it is too soon to think about taking care of our homes so they are in better shape, or removing belongings that aren't contributing to our lives.

And I don't think it is too soon to think about how we want to spend our days, or pass on our things.

I can't fix getting old, or not feeling well, or the inevitable truth that some day we are likely to be alone. But I do feel like taking some action to address these issues, no matter how small an action, can only help.
Nov. 26th, 2015 03:48 am (UTC)
I erased the comments I wrote because they were giving you advice, and you and I are different kinds of people.

Instead I will talk about playing Scrabble with my friend H who died 2 months ago. For a couple of months, I went every week to visit him in the post-hospital rehab where he had to stay until he could get a prosthesis to replace the amputated leg. H and I were never friends until this point, but no one else was visiting him, and I remembered what it was like after my accident the year before... the times I had visitors, the times I didn't.

I started out with the fantasy that I could change him, bring some sunshine into his life and make him a happier person. I enjoy playing Scrabble with someone who beats me roughly every other game, as long as the games moves along at a good clip, and as long as their attitude isn't so bad that they are cursing the luck of the draw from the tile bag.

H was terrible at making friends and at keeping them. He had a lot to complain about, but the substance of the complaints was teeny in comparison to the embellishment of them and dwelling on them and wallowing in them. Even when half my waking hours on a Saturday were consumed in commuting to and from him in the snow, he would never say gee, I really appreciate you coming, but instead would complain and cry (literally) that no one else would visit him.

Eventually when it came time to remove the plate and screws from my leg, and my pain was increasing by the week, I decided that I could no longer visit him every week, and shortly after my surgery decided that my next visit to H would be my last. I saw him once more when we were both at the same event, and he was happy to see me and was forcing himself to have a good day, and I was glad of that.

When I heard that he died, I felt sad that I could not make a friendship with him as I had hoped at first, but that kind of friendship was not possible because he didn't have the heart for it. It was as if he needed to be miserable in order to be happy. I did not want to be completely miserable and he did not want to be completely happy, so our friendship could only work for limited times and not go too deep. I felt glad that I had done my part, even if it was just a walk-on part and not a starring role, and that I had protected myself from absorbing someone else's demons.

There are easy parts and difficult parts to every living situation, whether alone or with others. Every new day, every breath sometimes, is a blessing. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. I wish you will enjoy the blessings of your days.
Nov. 26th, 2015 09:03 am (UTC)
Thank you. Your words and perspective are greatly valued. I remember reading somewhere that there was a lot of choice involved in madness, and it seems that there's quite a bit also involved in happiness as well.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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