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