Older and sweeter

The el­derly can be beau­ti­ful too, if they know how.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR - By JOYCE HEE

IWAS drawn to this line in Lee Inge­brigt­sen’s Ode To Re­tire­ment: “The rea­son I know my youth is all spent? My get up and go had got up and went.”

It dawned upon me that with the re­lent­less rav­aging of time, my skin had sagged, my en­ergy level had waned and I had lost my youth­ful sprint and ad­ven­tur­ous spirit. I am al­ready into my golden years although, oc­ca­sion­ally, I need a jolt and a con­scious re­minder about it.

Ac­cept­ing the fact that some­thing is bound to give way with the grow­ing years, grad­u­ally and even­tu­ally, isn’t all that gloomy a thought.

I be­lieve I have a choice – to grow de­light­fully sweeter as the days go by, or to feel mis­er­able and dis­grun­tled. Even if parts of my body do act up and be­come less and less “co-op­er­a­tive”, I do not have to feel stuck and re­signed to my state of help­less­ness.

Hav­ing ob­served a spec­trum of per­son­al­ity types and be­havioural traits of the aged, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive, I have come to my own con­clu­sion of how to grow old grace­fully. I would like to share the ex­pe­ri­ences of one el­derly ex­am­ple I know best, as my point of ref­er­ence.

When she was in her eight­ies, my mother was far from be­ing frail or sickly. She was spared the health prob­lems that com­monly plague the el­derly. Per­haps those born in China early in the last cen­tury had hardier roots. Or, it could be her dis­ci­plined life­style.

Her rou­tine al­ways be­gan with her morn­ing walk or her ex­er­cise on the tread­mill, fol­lowed by de­vo­tional time with God and scrip­ture read­ing. A per­fec­tion­ist of strong will, grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion, she was pos­i­tive, de­ci­sive and firm. But her strength was also her weak­ness; she was of­ten too strong in her opin­ions, in­tol­er­ant and stub­bornly in­flex­i­ble.

A char­ac­ter­is­tic that stood out dis­tinctly was her metic­u­lous neat­ness and pro­pri­ety. Mother was prim and proper in her at­tire, ap­pear­ance and out­look. So well groomed was she that never once was any strand of her hair out of place.

She amused me one day by com­plain­ing that her skin was get­ting wrin­kled and her hair turn­ing grey (in her eight­ies!). I as­sured her that I was in the same predica­ment de­spite be­ing 30 years younger.

“Van­ity, thy name is wo­man” is a say­ing that few, if any, will deny, and if I may add, it has no age limit.

Mother’s mind was alert and lu­cid. One thing that could never elude her mem­ory was the ex­act amount of cash she had in the bank and the in­ter­est she ex­pected from her de­posits. She could also re­call phone numbers with amaz­ing ac­cu­racy.

Her only hand­i­cap, how­ever, was her hear­ing; even the most so­phis­ti­cated and sen­si­tive of hear­ing aids did not help very much. This was the source of her frus­tra­tion, and ours as well. In­evitably, our com­mu­ni­ca­tion with her was grad­u­ally re­duced to an ex­change of es­sen­tial words and pleas­antries, af­ter some fu­tile and ex­as­per­at­ing at­tempts.

With her men­tal and phys­i­cal fac­ul­ties still in­tact, she held on to the habit of wield­ing con­trol over the af­fairs of the home, in­stead of re­lin­quish­ing the role which rightly be­longed to her daugh­terin-law.

Her main source of con­tention was al­ways the maid – none could live up to her stan­dards. Im­pos­ing her per­fec­tion­ist de­mands on the maid, she was al­most mer­ci­less in her fault-find­ing, usu­ally over clean­li­ness and dis­hon­esty. Whether it was jus­ti­fied or other­wise, the maid was con­stantly the tar­get of her sus­pi­cions, be it for steal­ing her money or us­ing her things such as soap.

Be­ing al­ways very cer­tain of her­self, mother would never take into ac­count the pos­si­bil­ity of her own for­get­ful­ness, care­less­ness or faulty mem­ory. Her repet­i­tive nag­ging and ac­cu­sa­tions drove even the most tol­er­ant of maids away, leav­ing the mess and stress for her daugh­ter-in-law to set­tle.

For­tu­nately, her daugh­ter-in-law was re­mark­ably tol­er­ant of her grow­ing ec­cen­tric­i­ties and for­get­ful­ness. Iron­i­cally, it was my brother’s thresh­old of tol­er­ance that wore thin and he oc­ca­sion­ally raised his voice at his mother.

My sis­ter-in-law had to coax her hus­band to be more un­der­stand­ing and civil to his aged mother, though her kind­ness was hardly re­cip­ro­cated nor ap­pre­ci­ated by her prej­u­diced mother-in-law.

Two years ago, at the age of 92, my mother at­tempted to “set the house in or­der” by dis­tribut­ing her cash and jew­ellery among her chil­dren. The sub­ject of death was al­ways on her lips and she even hinted that she wished to leave the world be­fore she be­came a li­a­bil­ity to any­one. She made her last vis­its to her nieces, neph­ews and rel­a­tives to bid them farewell and even gave them part­ing gifts.

In tan­dem with her de­pres­sive state was the grad­ual de­cline of her men­tal fac­ulty. One ev­i­dence of that was the ex­tended hours she spent in the bath­room. Her usual one-hour baths grad­u­ally stretched to three hours or more.

My sis­ter-in-law, with the help of the maid, had to drag her out of the bath­room, much to her fury. It was a daily or­deal for them. Lit­tle won­der that my sis­ter-in-law did not rank among the list of my mother’s favourites, although she was the most de­serv­ing care-giver.

Mother also grad­u­ally be­came more ret­i­cent and with­drawn. She was nat­u­rally less “in­ter­fer­ing” in mat­ters con­cern­ing the home. Although the maid was spared her per­sis­tent nag­ging, the down­side was that her spirit was flag­ging.

Per­haps over­whelmed by a sense of de­spon­dency, help­less­ness and lone­li­ness, her rate of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion ac­cel­er­ated.

Then came the bad fall that cul­mi­nated it all. She suf­fered se­vere pain and was bedrid­den for about a month. Though she sur­vived, a sub­se­quent fall robbed her of her re­main­ing strength and cog­ni­tion, which was ev­i­dent when we last saw her dur­ing Chi­nese New Year this year.

She was not quite her­self. She sur­prised us by open­ing the angpows we gave her in our pres­ence, and then left the money ly­ing around – some­thing she would never have done be­fore. She stared blankly at us, hardly spoke a word, and pos­si­bly did not un­der­stand that it was the fes­tive sea­son.

We all knew that her end was draw­ing near. Shortly af­ter, in May, her long-awaited de­sire to leave this world for a bet­ter place above was fi­nally granted.

Grow­ing old is in­deed a sober­ing thought. Be­ing in my six­ties and with grand­chil­dren of my own, I wish to steer clear of some of the com­mon fail­ings typ­i­cal of the aged and which are a bane to the younger gen­er­a­tion.

In ev­ery­one’s life, I be­lieve, in­clud­ing my mother’s, there are the good and bad, and strengths and weak­nesses, in vari­able pro­por­tions. It’s up to me to em­u­late what’s pos­i­tive and dis­card what’s neg­a­tive.

I have thus for­mu­lated my own old age man­ual.

My “not-to-be” list con­sti­tutes the pre­cau­tion­ary steps I will take, such as re­frain­ing from:

a) “moth­er­ing” and ex­ert­ing con­trol over my grown-up chil­dren.

In­stead I should as­sume the role of an ad­vi­sor-coun­sel­lor who will of­fer ad­vice when needed, with­out de­mand­ing ad­her­ence or obe­di­ence to it.

b) in­ter­fer­ing in the run­ning of the fam­ily or home af­fairs and also the way of rais­ing my grand­chil­dren.

The de­ci­sion-mak­ing is my chil­dren’s pre­rog­a­tive, not mine.

c) de­mand­ing more at­ten­tion than what my chil­dren can give.

I should not use the sub­tle weapons of in­still­ing guilt in the chil­dren or re­peat­ing an “or­gan recital” of the less func­tional parts of my body.

d) be­ing too de­pen­dent on my chil­dren and spouse to ful­fil my ba­sic emo­tional needs. My de­pen­dence should be more on God. e) be­ing self-cen­tred and grumpy, irri- ta­ble and prickly, neg­a­tive bit­ter and un­for­giv­ing.

I should not al­low nasty haughty spirit and a stub­born gain the up­per hand.

On the other hand, the steps I will take in­clude: a) re­mind­ing my­self that and wrong at times. I should not hold too strongly rights and opin­ions, but be ad­mit mis­takes and apol­o­gise b) be­ing pos­i­tive and grate­ful I should be gen­er­ous and spirit, and cheer­ful in coun­te­nance.

c) treat­ing my daugh­ter-would my own daugh­ter.

Love and fair­ness should at­ti­tude to­wards ev­ery­one.

d) slow­ing down if I must in­creas­ing years and more

How­ever, max­i­miz­ing what­ever I still pos­sess, I can still be

in life. e) leav­ing be­hind a legacy be­yond heir­loom and ma­te­rial A godly legacy will im­pact

for good and for eter­nity. f) keep­ing my spir­its up. I will at­tempt con­tin­u­ously

to those around me, even feel lonely and nos­tal­gic for

Armed with this cus­tom-my dream is to be­come that dame with a spe­cial touch grow­ing in grace and in­ner age.

But can I? The fu­ture is will just do my part to be to my con­vic­tions. n Old is gold, and bold. So, you have to say, about what­ever you, makes you happy, sad Maybe you want to share what vol­un­teer ev­ery week­end. Or,

you’ve planned for mem­bers club. E-mail your views to star2@ com.my. Pub­lished con­tri­bu­tions paid, so please in­clude your num­ber, ad­dress and tele­phone

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