I had a talk the other day with my friend, M. It was a short call, since she was hurrying off to her doctor’s office to have a memory test. She had had a detailed one a few years back, but decided she needed to have her memory tested again to see how she measured up against the last one. She was getting concerned about those little slips in her short-term memory like going upstairs for something and forgetting what it was by the time she got there. I just accept that as normal but she had a father with Alzheimer’s so did not want to take any chances. I told her to have a memorable time and not to forget the time of her appointment.
Then, today, I read something that said, in summary, we age expecting that our bodies and minds will deteriorate so that when they do we just accept it as the inevitable. The point of this article was that maybe if we didn’t expect it to happen, it wouldn’t. I don’t know if I really believe that since it’s a normal part of aging, eh? But, at the same time, there is some truth to it. Would M be worrying about her perceived memory loss if her father didn’t have Alzheimer’s? I don’t know.
And, when you think of it, it is not just us who form these expectations about aging. How many of us have been told by doctors when we complain about an ache or pain or slip of memory, “Oh, well you are getting older.” How does that help us any? We don’t have to be told we’re getting older believe me each and every one of us knows that very clearly, thank you very much. But, what we do need is help with whatever the complaint was that we went to see her about in the first place whether we’re 22 or 77.
I was thinking about all this in the pool this morning as I cross-country skied and dolphin kicked my way through a 55 minute advanced aquafit class. I can remember when I first started these classes five or more years ago. At that time I couldn’t do any of these things. I didn’t know how to swim and so kept my little self in the shallow end afraid to cross that line into the depths of the “big kids” end. And there I “expected” to stay for the rest of my aquafit days. Then, one day, I said, “I don’t think so,” and changed my expectations about what I could do by taking swimming lessons at age 65 and then accepting wonderful Sue’s challenge to put on a belt and get in the deep end for the sake of my knees. Besides becoming more comfortable in the water, I had to change my picture, i.e., expectation, of who I was there and what I could do.
Mind you, my arthritic feet are worse than they were five years ago, and my hair has lost all its curl, and my memory probably isn’t as keen as it once was and my body is definitely the shape of that of an older woman — which, to say something positive about it, does often get me a seat on the subway — whether I expected, accepted or denied them to be or not to be. But, perhaps, what it’s all about, is what I expect how this aging body of mine is going to get through this next, final, phase of my life.
I wonder if my mother ever spent her Sunday afternoons at age 70 worrying about losing her memory or hobbling into her 80s with arthritic feet. I don’t think so. I don’t know for
sure, since I was only around her for holidays and occasional weeks during that time. I do recall that she balked at spending her afternoons at a senior recreational place because there were just too many “old people” there and that she strongly objected to being seen in a wheelchair until one of her grandchildren convinced her otherwise. But I don’t believe that just because she physically couldn’t do some things like gardening or cooking or baking 100 cookies or even reading books, it didn’t mean that she couldn’t still enjoy and appreciate those things when someone else was doing them for her. She was a woman who embraced life fully no matter what her age or her memory or her physical state.
I remember, the night before she died, she was sitting bent over in her favourite chair talking with children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and a few spirits who were hanging out with her in the end. I don’t think she ever expected to die that night and, when you think about it, that’s not such a bad way to live.