Posts Tagged 'nonagenarians'

“How many of us are left?”

At our annual lunch at his favorite cafe by the Hudson River, Glenn usually gets around to the question he’s been wanting to ask.

“So, how many of us are left?”IMG_4024-001

Last year, when he asked this, I was fresh off of the memorial of dear Alice. I swallowed, and told him that about half of the original group of 30 that I profiled in my book were still living. And then we talked about how hard it is to see so many go.

This year the losses were even more personal. My grandfather was one of them. He used to ask the same question that Glenn likes to ask. And he’d want to know about the living – the guys in particular – like how Glenn and Eddie were getting on.

When I told Glenn that I thought only 1/3 of the group was still living (10 individuals), he seeemd to connect with that. “We’re all going downhill,” he said. “I’ll be 97 in two months.”

You may recall that Glenn liked to play pranks to get people laughing. To lighten the mood, I asked him if he had played any jokes on anyone recently. He said no, but he had a big surprise for me. (Each year there is big news of some sort that Glenn builds suspense about.)

Out of his file of papers and pictures, he pulled out a bill for a five-day emergency room stay. $25,000. “My doctor told me my heart wasn’t right, so I had to go to the emergency room.” That was the big surprise of 2014. Luckly, being a veteran meant his bills were paid in full, at least in this case.

Glenn lives for his family. An our annual year-in-review lunch, he brought along a file folder full of evidence of his kids and grandkids’ success, and by association, his pride. There was a picture of a fancy yacht, and an amusing story about his grandson’s summer job cleaning that thing with a toothbrush. Then there was a dog bakery menu – evidence of a job his granddaughter’s boyfriend got in New Zealand. And there was his daughter’s recent book on translating – and a free copy for me if I so desired.

After running through the year’s events, he turned to me and says, “Now it is your turn, run through your highlights.” Uh….. I say something brief and they redirect to questions about his kids.

I imagine his kids must have known something was up when he was wheeled into the emergency room. He talks to most of them every day or every other day, and all of a sudden there was silence. I asked if they came to visit recently.

“All of a sudden, when I was in the emergency room, they all had business in New York. They all came to visit, one by one.”

Now back and home, Glenn resumes his daily calls and/or emails with his children (one in Haiti, one in Paris, one in Washington state, and one in Washington DC. He says he can’t do much, and he misses being active. Walking to the mailbox leaves him out of breath. But he did say that he had his Danish friends over last week for lunch.

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How to Fill Your Days at 95

Ever wonder what a 95-year-old might do in a day? Or how you could fill your days when you get to 95?

Here’s Shana’s checklist for today, July 12, 2012:

_ Dogsitting

_ Reading the paper

_ Weeding

_ Watering

_ Harvesting

_ Food prep

_ Physical Therapy

_ Napping

_ Swimming

_ Spending time with visitors

Dogsitting: The day starts early (7:30) when Shana’s son drops off his dog, Hermes, and heads to work. He’ll be back at 5 to pick him up. For nine hours, “Gramma Shana” gets to spoil her Hermes (and as such, she fits with my Lessons Eight and Nine: “Care for Others,” and “Reach out to Family“).  At the same time, her family feels good that Shana has company. So does Shana. She LOVES having people over. She has run an “informal B&B” her whole life.  Anyone who drops by gets a handful of flowers or zucchinis, whatever is being harvested that week.

Garden-work (mid-morning): Shana says that gardening keeps her sane, and she wants to die with her gardening boots on. Over the years, Shana, with the help of family, has adapted her approach to gardening as her body has changed. First, her neice put in raised beds, so she could reach the weeds. But she still lost balance sometimes. Now Shana tends those beds while seated in a plastic chair. It works. (I wrote about this in Lessons Ten and Four in my book, “Be Adaptable,” and “Take Time for Self“)

Food prep (late morning): Shana also cooks up a storm. She prepared the patties and the salads for Memorial Day this year, as she always has. And on a daily basis, she may be found cooking meals like fish and vegetables.

Therapy (after lunch): Today Shana is doing something new – physical therapy – because she fell while putting on a sweater in her room. Perhaps surprisingly, nothing was broken. But Shana has had to re-learn distance walking.

Napping (early afternoon): Shana gets energy for the afternoon and evening if she can take a midday nap.

Swimming (afternoon): Shana doesn’t go in her backyard pool on her own (she sometimes has problems lifting herself out of the water), but her daughter is visiting from the city today, so they will go in together.

Visiting: (late afternoon) “Mom tires me out; I can’t keep up with her,” says Shana’s daughter.  And then she quickly invites me over for the day’s harvest and a visit. “Shana would love to see you!”

Shana is not your average 95-year-old. But, like many in her age group, she epitomizes how the active life span of Americans is elongating, as many live longer and healthier lives.

Now if only I could get up from sitting at this computer and do something!

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Glenn Takes in a New Boarder

Glenn and I had our annual lunch by the river this week, and to build suspense in advance, he alluded to (over the phone) “big news.”

Before getting to that, though, a reminder about Glenn. Over this past year, radio commentators have dubbed Glenn “The Pranking Dane,” and the “Scandinavian Joker,” while my students refer to him as “Glenn, the Sweetheart.” He is the one who served me strawberry shortcake on our first interview session, and then offered housing to my friend, a kindergarten teacher, who lived with him for 6 months (for free).

Over the years, I’ve followed Glenn to gym class, met him at various restaurants, had tea at his home, met members of his family, introduced him to my extended family, had him over for his birthday (same as my daughter’s), and emailed with him regularly.

Aging Our Way is now published, but Glenn still insists on taking me out to lunch to fill me in on his life every June, like we used to do. It is a sort of year-in-review session, not unlike like the year-end reports I have been writing since the semester ended. (Ugh.) But Glenn keeps his report very entertaining.

So there we were. And, like usual, Glenn brought lots of print-outs in a brown paper bag, to illustrate his year. That included:

1) Two 8 x 11 printed pics of his latest project – a small bunkhouse on his family’s land, still in process; he’s one of several coordinators of this ongoing project

2) A picture of his newest great-grandchild who stopped breathing on day 10 of life and then was brought back to life, magically (eanwhile, Glenn stayed up late many nights filling all family members in by phone and email until all was well again)

3) A printed out joke about an elderly man driving to a late-night alcohol support group,

4) A press release about a local student working on global HIV support whom he had put in touch with his son in Haiti, one of many “matches” Glenn makes on a regular basis

If anyone is in doubt about elders taking control of their lives, this report would help them to see the truth, at least in Glenn’s case.

After presenting these, Glenn then moved to the “big news” which involved housing a middle aged gay man for the summer, whom his pastor sent his way.

The backstory is this: Glenn made an offer long ago to his pastor that he’d be willing to take anyone in who needed free accommodations, after meeting with them. Glenn is a softie, and after meeting this guy, and privately admitting to his own prejudices, Glenn agreed to take him in for a few months. From what I can tell, this guy doesn’t have a caretaking bone in his body (he never offers to help with anything) but Glenn doesn’t seem too bothered by that. Glenn is more bothered that this man “is getting the short end of the stick by not being with women; since women are so wonderful.” Just another day in the life of a generous man and his latest boarder.

Glenn admitted to having less energy these days, but these changes weren’t evident to me. He still jokes about marrying again, reading the latest bestsellers, and getting together with his Tuesday morning Coffee Klatch group (all men) at the diner.

Yes, Glenn is still a sweetheart, and, I’m proud to say, a good friend. Thanks for lunch Glenn.

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Betty White: 90, Proud, and Pranking

Just when we think she fits the “adorable grandmother figure” stereotype, Betty White socks it to us, as she should. In her non-threatening way, she’s leading a movement to confront ageism in society, and we’ll be all the better for it.

Did you see Betty White’s birthday extravaganza on NBC last night? What a scene! What pomp! What a lifetime Betty has had!  And such an impact. I came away feeling like she has mentored all of Hollywood! Despite the roast-like moments, the affair was sugary sweet, a fitting appreciation for Betty.

However, if you kept the TV on, the contrast between Betty’s birthday and Betty’s new show was fascinating.“Betty White’s Off Their Rockers” is a show about a gang of 7 senior citizens who play pranks on young people.

I like to call it “Punk’d! By Nonagenarians.”

There they are, playing up and bashing stereotypes of the elderly, to hilarious effect. And why not? They are the fastest-growing age group in our society. They are surprisingly healthy and strong, full of wisdom, and up until now, made to be mostly invisible – by Hollywood and society at large. (They are 70% women, although this is not evident in the show.) And let’s face it: they are the true survivors of this reality show we call life. So, why not put them in charge?  They are the best news of 2012 so far. And we really need to shift our thinking about “the elderly” and how aging is changing. So…

Betty: you go (Golden) girl!

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Meika Loe

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