When I’m Eighty-Four

(names have been changed to protect me from looking like a real jerk)

A magical sunset
A magical sunset

Last night was so much fun. We played on the trampoline until the sun finally set, then lay in the centre of the bouncy mat, on our backs, and counted the stars. The sky was an indigo blue, speckled with star twinkles and moonshine and the crickets were singing like a choir, so it was all quite magical. Then, I pretended I was the Wicked Witch of the West and gave Angella (Dorothy) and Jett (Tin Man) ‘poison’ popcorn and ‘poison’ strawberry milk that would make them fall asleep forever … unfortunately, Jett woke up 4 times, which wasn’t so magical. But hey – that’s reality. The reality being that they are only going to be this small and full of wonder once, so I plan to enjoy every magical moment I can.

Alright, already. If I have to see Walter Link’s penis one more time I think I’m going to freak right out. Let me explain…

Every two weeks, I visit a very special senior lady. She lives in an extended care facility across from the hospital after a recent and very serious brush with death. I used to visit her in her basement suite of her daughter’s home, where she lived somewhat independently, but now she requires round the clock care, so she’s sort of stuck there, in this pavilion, with a bunch of other ailing, cranky and very lonely seniors.

I love Gladys. She is sweet, bright, funny, scattered, intermittently paranoid and totally unpredictable. Oh yes, it’s called Schizophrenia. The agency I volunteer with said they couldn’t find anyone willing to visit her because the stigma of her illness frightened people. I thought ‘Bring it on – she can’t be weirder than my family’.

Now, I’m not trying to make myself out to be some kind of hero or anything. Some of our get-togethers go better than others. Some days I groan at the thought of going. But one thing I do know is that I have been richly blessed – more than I deserve – and I think it’s important to find time to give back, even if your to-do list is as long as the fifth amendment. Like mine usually is. In the end, I always leave Gladys feeling like I’ve learned a thing or two. More often than not, about my own glaring shortcomings.

More what? Robitussin?
More what? Robitussin?

That said, I’m never quite sure what our visits will entail. Once I arrived and she was dressed up in a pink hat and pearls, insisting I had promised to take her for fish and chips. Huh? Another time, she accused me of running a red light with her in the car (okay, I sailed through a yellow going 30 km/h) and wouldn’t drive with me for a few weeks. This made her afraid of what other kind of illegal stuff I might be involved in…? Okayyyy… One day, she confided she had accidentally given her daughter’s cat Robitussin – how that was an accident, I am mystified. She said the cat had eaten all its food, all the dog’s food, and was begging for more. More what? Robitussin?

It was all quite confusing. I usually just have to go with whatever.

Sadly, since her last operation, they’ve got her all hooped up on a cocktail of various meds and she’s lost a bit of her spunk. She’s been rather quiet and antisocial, and usually refuses to eat with the other seniors in the common area. I don’t blame her, really. The dining room has an enormous floor-to-ceiling panoramic window that faces out onto one of the busiest streets in our town. And there they all sit, wearing these bulletproof vest-size terry bibs, attempting to feed themselves – most dribbling chicken cacciatore and Jell-O all over the place – for half the world to see. Whoever thought that locating the dining area there was a good idea should be shot. Or forced to use chopsticks for the rest of their life. Poor sweet souls. I feel for them. It’s hard enough to have dignity when you’re peeing into a bag or need assistance getting from your wheelchair to the loo. I had two C-sections. I know. Geez….

And then there’s Walter Link. He has a system down. Well, usually it’s down. I sit with Gladys often, at a private little table at the end of her hallway, directly across from his room, while she eats her dinner. She has a favorite armchair she likes to sit in that faces away from his doorway. To have conversation, I need to sit across from her, facing the doorway. Our man Walt has this elaborate routine to ensure a successful bathroom experience, and I admire his spirit and independence. Really, I do. Somehow, he wriggles his pants to his ankles in a sitting position, in his wheelchair. Then he rolls as close to the bathroom door as possible – which happens to be in the doorway – then stands up, buck naked from the waist down, and does a little shimmy to the toilet. He does this all without tripping, flushing or CLOSING ANY DOORS. EeeeeGaad … it’s impossible to not look. The first time it happened, I was taken so off guard, I felt like a victimized voyeur if that’s even possible. Squeamishly uncomfortable, pity, and totally creeped out all at the same time. I mean, closing the door probably takes some super-human effort that he just doesn’t have the energy for anymore….

The Rise and Fall...
The Rise and Fall…

I think about getting old a lot. We’re all getting older, all the time, every day. Each minute that ticks by is a minute that you never get back. We all get so wrapped up in our own stuff, like selecting the granite tile for our washrooms, or how fat our butts are getting.

One day, we’ll all be just like Gladys and Walter, wearing bibs and trying not to pee our pants, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. That’s a hard concept to wrap my head around, but it’s true. True. Truer than anything else I try to convince myself of, or buy to make myself feel better, or think I need to be happy.

Visiting Gladys reminds me about what’s important. Someday, when I’m old, and have burned out my children and grandchildren with recycled tales of the glory days, I hope that someone will come and visit me. And listen to me, and be kind to me, and put up with me, even if I am downright annoying. Or totally crazy. Right now, that’s my Husband’s job, and if I’m lucky, he’ll outlive me, but you never know where the road is winding. Hopefully, there won’t be any eighty-four year old units waving around. Maybe I’ll change my mind by the time I get there….

“Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love” – Saint Francis of Assisi

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