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Becoming an Older Person

Someday all of us will be elderly. What kind of role models do you have for this phase in life? Being 70 years old kind of sneaks up on you, but I have a sense of accomplishment to have made it to three score and ten, especially with all of my teeth.

I didn’t have many role models for this phase of life. My grandmother on my father’s side died before I was in high school, and I only saw her a few times. When I was three years old, she left her chocolate Ex Lax chewables on the table and I ate several pieces. That was memorable, my mother told me.

On my mother’s side, Paw Paw smoked a pipe, did crossword puzzles, and seemed like an easy going guy, when I saw him every few years in Oklahoma. He would pull into a spot that said, “No parking,” wink at me, and say, “This spot is saved for me.”

Paw Paw had a lovely singing voice and was the song leader at the Wednesday night pot lucks at their church. He winked at me again, as he led the diners in singing “I Love to Tell the Story.” It is still one of my favorite hymns.

Paw Paw’s wife, Gam, had bluish hair, and a thinning spot on top covered by a “wiglet.” Gam and Paw Paw ate dinner at 4:00 and went to their separate bedrooms by 8:00. Gam (Fan Cochran) was an oil painter and had one-woman art shows; she was prominent in the arts community of Oklahoma City. Her example of using her talents into her eighties makes her a good role model.

All the grandparents no longer wanted to be around children for any period of time. It was just too much hustle and bustle for them.

I visited each of them in a nursing home before they died. They were shrunken versions of their former selves. Paw Paw no longer spoke, but surprised us by joining in the hymns we sang around his bed. Gam was able to sit on the side of her bed, and greet my two

children, her great-grandchildren. She had continued her art by teaching classes at the nursing home. It is encouraging to see that those aspects of their personality continued, even as the body declined.

On the in-law side, Grandmother Madge was an example of how “not” to be elderly. Her conversation consisted of health, vitamins, and doctor appointments. It was tiresome to listen to boasts about her educated family lineage and the frequent implication she had “married down,” sixty years before.

Her sister, Great Aunt Ethel was more fun to be around: She was interesting, subscribed to numerous magazines and newspapers, never talked about her health or bragged about the family background. Ethel asked about what YOU were doing, and discussed current events, instead of her ailments. Her conversation and interest in life make Ethel a good role model.

Now I live in a senior apartment complex, surrounded by elderly folks. The ones I enjoy are engaged in life and don’t see all the changes to our culture as negative.

We are similar to our grandparents in some ways. Most of us eat our supper early. Many prefer not to drive after dark. We dote on our grandchildren but also don’t mind when it is time for them to go back to their parents, just like our own grandparents.

Hearing is a bit challenging, just like it was for our elders. Some music is way too loud. We don’t like restaurants where there is so much background noise we can’t have a conversation. Many of us don’t enjoy crowds anymore.

I can think of one way in which seniors today are different from our grandparents. Our grandparents did not believe in spending money to prolong life. Today, perhaps thanks to Medicare and other insurance that was not available to our elders, we go to great lengths to extend our lives, even if just for a few months. Most seniors comply with every test and procedure their doctor suggests. It is our choice to have a Pacemaker or not. It’s our choice to have open heart surgery. Doctors continue to push to keep an elderly person going….sometimes it is best to let go. Our grandparents knew that.

Who do you know that inspires you by aging well?

For now, my challenge is to be a good role model of an older person for my children and grandchildren. And be careful where I leave the Ex-Lax.

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