Planning to Grow Old

My husband is 12 years older than me, and most of our friends are even older than that.  We had lunch yesterday with a couple we’ve known for many years.  John (not his real name) is 90, and Mary (not her real name) is in her late 80’s.  There were a number of years when John took care of Mary because of illness, and now she is taking care of him.  Recently, they hired a woman to help them with John’s care.  The one thing John won’t let the caregiver do is give him a bath.  We talked yesterday over lunch about the difficulties we all face as we grow old.

I think we all agreed that the worst part of growing old is losing your dignity and privacy. There are just certain things that are absolutely demeaning about the old age thing.  While I’m only 58, a couple of years ago I experienced a small (short-lived, thankfully) taste of what our friends are experiencing — and I didn’t like it one little bit.  I fell down a flight of stairs at work and broke both ankles, confining me to a wheelchair and a recliner for three months. During that difficult time, I developed pancreatitis twice and finally a gallbladder operation was in order.   This was not my finest hour.

Part of this time, I was not able to maneuver to the bathroom, so sponge baths took place, and a portable toilet was my companion.  As if it wasn’t difficult enough to strip me of my dignity, my family decided it would be a great idea to have a party.  I think it was Mother’s Day (which I hate anyway).  Every time I had to use the “facilities” — such as they were — everyone had to leave the room.  If that wasn’t bad enough, while my family was there, nature called for more than the yellow stuff.  So in addition to the daily humiliation of my husband or daughter having to empty the portable toilet, I now had the entire extended family coming back into my family room to “that odor.”

To make matters worse, the nerve endings in my right foot were completely messed up from the surgery to put a piece of metal in my ankle, and I didn’t realize that the burning feeling on my toes was actually a bad case of athlete’s feet instead of something related to the surgery.  I couldn’t see my toes because of the cast on my leg.  Listerine is the only thing that I’ve ever found to cure my athlete’s feet, so I was now forced to let my daughter place cotton balls soaked in Listerine between my smelly toes.

While I understand that my family was trying to “cheer me up” with this party, there is a time to back away and allow someone to keep their dignity.  I’m actually thankful for the experience, however, because it was sort of a “trial run” for  things to come in our future.  I don’t know which one of us will become ill first as we age, but we now know somewhat what to expect.  It will be a cold day in hell before I will allow dignity to be entirely stripped for either one of us.

Maybe there is no way to actually “plan” for growing old, but there are certain things that we can do to alleviate some of the stress and depression.  Thinking about this today, and thinking about the horrendous three-month experience, I came up with a list of things that I can do right now to make things easier later.

1.  Educate our children about our wishes.

2.  Have frank discussions about the challenges that are ultimately in the future.

3.  Establish some rules for visitation.

4.  Make our home as easily maneuverable and clutter-free as possible.

5.  Have a plan to allow fresh air and sunshine accessibility to someone who is ill.

6.  Have a plan to allow the ill person to get out of the house on a regular basis, even if just to sit outside.

7.  Be on the lookout for shower aides, etc., that we can store in the garage for that unexpected need.

8.  Save money for a laptop computer for a time when the desktop can’t be accessed.

9.  Discover hobbies or crafts that can be accomplished even when heads are foggy from pain killers.

10.  Keep our minds active now to slow the onset of any possible dementia.

Sometimes growing old just stinks, but it doesn’t have to be the most depressing time of your lives.  I’m determined with a little planning we can grow old gracefully.

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Writing Success = Baby Steps

I was just beginning to have small success writing and was building up confidence when my life came crashing down around me.  I was forced to write under a pen name.  It was an unbelievable amount of work recreating myself as “Tudie Rose,” and for a time I didn’t even want to write anymore.  All that is behind me now, as I’ve had my first article published under “Tudie Rose.”  The link for my first article for Familius is here.  Familius will shortly be publishing an essay that I wrote in a collection of essays from other authors as an e-book, which will later be published in traditional book form.  While I gained confidence that I could write, I wasn’t so sure about Tudie — but apparently Tudie can write too.  🙂

Love Is More Than A Valentine

All the talk about Valentine’s Day baffles me every year.  It seems to be such an odd tradition. Unmarried women stress over whether they will be alone or with someone.  Married women stress over whether their husbands will remember the day.  Unmarried men stress over how much money to spend on which items to impress the girl of their dreams.  Married men stress over whether this is the year for flowers or a simple card.  Does all this stress have any basis in love?  I mean, what is love?

Even after 36 years of marriage, I’m not sure I can give an accurate definition of what love means, but I’m going to give it a try.  At least I’ll try to explain what love means to me personally, as I look back in time at my marriage.

Dad used to say, “When you’re considering whether or not to marry a man, stand back and take a good look.  Picture him first thing in the morning before he’s brushed his teeth and showered.  Picture him coming in sweaty after a hard day.  Try to picture what he’ll look like cleaning up puke and changing poopy diapers.  Picture him broke and not knowing how he is going to put food on the table.  Then, if you think you can still love him, marry him.”  I took Dad’s advice, and I did stand back to take that look, and a second look, and yes, even a third look.  Yes, I gave the engagement ring back three times — BUT we’ve been married 36 years.

A friend of mine told me recently that she loves her husband so much more now than the day she married him.  She said she knew that sounded bad, and that she did love him when she married him.  I told her she didn’t have to explain because I knew exactly what she meant.  If love is done correctly, it becomes much more intense, and much more sweet as the years pass.

When we first got married, love was going to the laundromat together on Thursday night, putting coins in the machines, and going next door to McDonald’s for “dinner out.”  Soon love became my husband packing his lunch box while I puked over the toilet at the smell of lunch meat and tomatoes.  It wasn’t long before love was making life or death decisions together about a very ill baby in NICU.  By the time she came home from the hospital, we had a washing machine, but no dryer.  Love became hanging laundry on the line.  I always washed the diapers last (yes, we did the real thing in those days) because it took so long to get them through a soak cycle, a wash and rinse cycle, and an extra rinse cycle with fabric softener. We would go to bed after I put the fabric softener in the machine.  Love was Danny putting on his work boots at 5:00 a.m., and crunching the snails on the lawn in the early morning dew while he hung the diapers on the line before going to work so they would be dry by the time I needed them.  Love was finding a used dryer for $30 and getting help to install it for me the week we brought baby number two home from the hospital.  There were two more babies over time.  NICU was no stranger to us by any means.  Love was also losing a child by miscarriage and getting through it.  Each event brought us closer together.

There was a house to make into a home, and never enough money to go around.  There was robbing Peter to pay Paul.  There were important decisions to make.  Do we send the children to the neighborhood school, or bus them to the basic school across town?  Does Mom work, or stay home?  How long do I stay home?  Is it more important for me to stay home while they are young, or to have a college fund available when they are older?  In the end, Dad worked two (and sometimes three jobs), and I worked part-time in the evenings in order to scrape by until the kids were older, and I went back to work full-time and we cut him down to one full-time job.  Love grew.

Love became standing together as we tried to make responsible adults out of these little charges.  Love was realizing that each child was different from the others, and that there was no recipe for success for any of them.  Love was holding each other through hurt and pain. Love was fighting when we needed to fight, and getting over it when we needed to move on.

Love was losing my Dad, then his Dad, then my Mom, then his Mom, and helping each other through the grief.  Love was getting each other through the loss of my stepson to a tragic accident.

Love was living through our various church responsibilities — some very difficult ones — and keeping our sense of humor in the process.  Love was learning how to “support” each other in those church callings — sometimes by doing them as a team effort.

These days love is living through our various ailments as we sometimes struggle to get out of bed in the morning.  Love is realizing that we did our best as parents.  Love is admitting that we made mistakes in the process, but they turned out okay in spite of our failings.  Love is the sideways knowing glances at each other when our children make similar mistakes.  Love is holding on to each other when we are hurting, but also giving each other time and space to grow individually.  Love is knowing when to speak and when to be still.  Love is smiling at the same idiosyncrasies in each other that drove us crazy the first part of our marriage.  Love is cutting each other slack because our time together on this earth grows shorter each day. Love is obliterating the unkind gestures of outsiders by giving kindness to each other.  Love is serving one another at the same time we serve those around us.  Love is working together, side by side.  Love is locking out the world with all its hurt.

Love is all of the above, but most of all, it is the history we make with each other over time — the history that will stand the test of time.  Love is never giving up on each other, or on love itself.  Love is being grateful for each day spent together, for the blessings of our lives, and for the joy we give each other.

Words from the Grave

Those of you who know me personally, or who have read my blogs, or who know me via social media, know that I’m passionate about road safety — and for good reason.  For those who don’t know me, the short version is that my stepson, Matt White, was killed in a Caltrans accident while filling a pothole on the Elk Grove Boulevard exit ramp of I-5 in Sacramento, California on December 14, 2007.  Matt was 35 years old.  His daughters were only 8 and 10 years old when he was killed.  The driver who hit Matt was sober, but driving too fast because he was late for work.  Matt’s death, coupled by the fact that my husband retired from Caltrans after 35 years of dodging traffic, made me keenly aware of how fast tragedy can happen.

What you don’t know is that there is another tragedy lurking around the corner at my family.  Tudie Rose is my pen name.  I chose that name for a special reason.  When I was a baby, my grandfather reportedly would hold my little hand and say, “Just like a little rosebud,” thus, “Rose.”  Tudie was the nickname for my mother’s favorite relative, Elnora Buchanan Fautz, who was killed by a hit and run driver while she waited for a streetcar on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 49th Street in Oakland, California on July 9, 1946. Tudie was 39 years old.  Her husband, Joseph, watched it happen.  We don’t know whether the driver of the vehicle was intoxicated (he was never caught), however, the speeding vehicle hit Tudie at 12:35 a.m., in a pretty secluded area, according to the transcript of the coroner’s inquest.  That suggests to me that the driver was probably drunk.  My mother always said that I looked like Tudie.  Mom idolized her, and I wish Tudie had lived long enough for me to meet her.  I only have the stories Mom told about Tudie — stories about what a fun person she was — stories Mom always told with sadness in her eyes.

When I heard about Bloggers Against Drunk Drivers blogging this week to stop drunk driving, I couldn’t help but jump on the band wagon.  I would add also that I’d love it if all cell phones were tossed in the back seat, or locked in the glove compartment or the trunk.

We all need to be responsible drivers.  No husband should ever have to watch his wife hit and killed by a speeding vehicle whose driver was probably drunk.  No children should ever have to send their father off to work in the morning and never see him again because he was doing his job.  Please stop and think about the lives you have the potential to end or ruin when you drive after drinking, or pick up that cell phone behind the wheel, or speed on your way to work because you hit the snooze button on the alarm clock.  Please realize there are pedestrians waiting for street cars and buses.  Think about those men and women working in construction zones who have families who want to see them at the end of the day.  Think about the tow truck drivers, highway patrol, and emergency technicians on the side of the road who want to see their families again.  It’s time to call for responsibility.  Every action has a consequence.

I’m sure Tudie (the real one) would want to say, “Slow down and don’t drink and drive.”  I’m sure Matt would want to say, “Slow for the cone zone.”  Words from the grave.

If you’d like to read more stories from other bloggers, please go here.

Matt's Cone

Honor Guard Wreath Safety Standdown 4-16-09[1] DSCI0180 DSCI0178 DSCI0181 DSCI0179