Many of the people in the Silent Generation spent most, or all, of their lives on farms or in small villages. Let me tell you about my cousin Marjorie. She was a few years older than me, married to Fred and, not wanting to be farmers like the rest of their siblings, the two of them saw a need for a general store that was many miles from the nearest town. Since their store was along a fairly well-traveled two-lane highway, they could get goods delivered to them in a more-or-less timely manner.
They made a passable living over the years, raising three sons who left home as soon as they finished high school leaving Marjorie and Fred alone for several decades in their store with its cramped living space on second floor and no close neighbors. Since they both came from large families, relatives stopped by occasionally on their way to the nearest city to shop. When Fred became ill, Marjorie cared for him until she couldn't anymore. His brother took him to the hospital where he died.
Marjorie was alone.
Being alone with nobody to talk to for days and weeks at a time except the few customers who stopped in and found little or nothing of interest on the store shelves, Marjorie became more and more isolated. She forgot to order fresh bread, other new supplies and above all, cigarettes. Customers rarely, if ever, came back. When winter arrived, she stayed upstairs in her bed covered with wool blankets for much of the day. There was little to eat except the vegetables that she had gathered from the garden and either dried or canned for the two of them to eat through the winter. With Fred gone, Marjorie hoped that the jars of food might last until spring.
One day, when the snowstorms abated, there was a knock on the door. It was Marjorie's cousin Ellen. After a short conversation, Ellen said goodbye and went on her way. She had been shocked at what she had found. The store was dusty and in disarray. What little items were left on the shelves were old and outdated. Marjorie seemed vague and somewhat confused.
Knowing that she had no legal authority to intervene, Ellen phoned one of Marjorie's sons to tell him about his mother. He showed little interest. Ellen called Marjorie's granddaughter Sally, and finally got the response that she was looking for. Together, the two of them found an assisted living home in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, the nearest city, that agreed to take Marjorie.
They knew that Marjorie would not want to move, so Ellen and Sally simply said that they were going to visit the home to see what she thought. When they arrived in LaCrosse, the director of the assisted living home took over. She asked Ellen and Sally to wait in the lounge while she gave Marjorie a personal tour. In a little while, she came back alone and told the two women to leave and not come back for a couple of weeks, that Marjorie would be fine.
Two weeks later, Ellen and Sally returned to the assisted living home. What they found surprised them and showed that their trust in this director had been well placed. Marjorie had completely acclimated to the community. She loved her warm cozy little room and, especially, her new job waiting on tables at mealtime. Marjorie had spent a lifetime serving customers, caring for husband and children, and this new role awakened her gregarious self. She introduced Ellen and Sally to her new friends among the residents, and said nothing about having been left there on her own. She had already forgotten.
Assisted living homes were a new concept in those days, and many were developed by individuals who turned their own houses into care facilities for disabled people who could pay for room, board, and care. These places were neither licensed, nor supervised.
In other cases, families welcomed their elderly relatives to live with them. Edna who was married to my Uncle Charles was raising four children of her own, accepted an orphaned niece into their home, and cared for my grandfather Carl in his declining years. When Edna's parents became senile and could no longer live alone, she cared for them too. Although the farmhouse had three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs, Edna and Charles gave up their downstairs bedroom and put both of Edna's parents in its double bed so as to care for them more easily.
Well, "easily" is probably not the best way to describe it. There was no indoor plumbing, hence no bathroom. My Grandpa Carl carried his overnight pail down the stairs every morning for emptying. Edna's parents were bedridden and incontinent, and the smell emanating from that bedroom wafted throughout the downstairs no matter how often they tried to change the sheets. It wasn't exactly fun to visit that household, and nobody who did, stayed very long. After a couple of years, Edna's parents died, and normality returned.
Some offspring were indifferent to the plight of elderly parents, or were in denial, or just didn't know what to do, so they did nothing.
In some cases, elderly people depended on neighbors to give occasional help which they did willingly, until that was no longer feasible.
Suicide was a solution if a person had lost their spouse, could no longer maintain the farm, and was too far from town to get help. It was better than starving to death, right?
We've come a long way since those "good 'ol days." Slowly, slowly, humankind is learning to create a society that values its elders and the contributions that they have made. We have Medicare and Social Security for those who worked hard throughout their lives and paid into these government programs. We still have a long way to go to create a just society for all our people, and we always have to remain vigilant to protect ourselves from those who don't yet recognize that we're better together than we are apart.
Autumn lets us know that nothing is permanent.
Leaves turn from green to yellow and orange and red,
Finally falling from branches left bare.
There is a pause, a silence, a sense that something else
Is coming soon.
At a life-plan retirement home such as ours, we become accustomed to death; it is all around us, happening almost every day. This is a home for people nearing the end of their lives who know that life is not over until it ends in real-live-death, and who feel that they've got a lot of livin' yet to do.
I am one of almost five hundred people who live on this forty-acre campus. Like many of my Norwegian-American ancestors before me, I plan ahead. I know that if I live long enough, I may die of old age, and I better be ready for it. So, all throughout my life, I have saved every penny that I didn't need. Every refund check went into savings, not available for current spending. In time, I noticed a pattern: Yes, I saved every little bit that I could, and eventually, that built up into a chunk of money, but then a need would occur that was more expensive than my relatively meager income would support. Should I spend part of my savings? Did I really need this item, or did I just want it? When I could, I gave myself two weeks to mull it over before deciding. By the end of that time, I would know the answer. Either I no longer was tempted by the desired item, or I gave myself permission to purchase the needed item. No guilt. No remorse. I could freely and joyfully put the new item to use.
Old age is expensive. Make no mistake. Your income goes down, and your needs go up. Often these are health-related problems. You are injured in a car crash, in an unanticipated fall down the stairs. You have a stroke, or get cancer. I don't need to scare you with all the possibilities. You know what they are. It's not necessary to name every darn thing that could go wrong. Just, in general, don't deny that these things are possible. You are not a teenager anymore. Grow up. Plan ahead.
We have many people living here that I could easily label titans, but this one stands out. At age 105, He lived a long and productive life. You can read more about him here, and I urge you to do so. I am privileged to be a friend of his wife's also. In just a few months, she will be age 107 and loves to philosophize about the current issues of the day. Being elderly doesn't necessarily mean that your mind is gone. So far, my own is intact, and I've got twenty-some years to go if I'm going to live as long as my friend. That's a whole lot of livin' left to do!
Little by little, I began to lose my hearing. At first I didn't notice except that I found that I was increasingly asking people to repeat what they had just said to me. Finally my daughter told me that if I didn't get some hearing aids, she wasn't going to bother talking to me anymore. She said that it was just too annoying to have to continually repeat things again and again.
Grumbling about the cost of hearing aids, I bypassed the ads for inexpensive aids and sought out an audiologist. After the examination, I settled for some hearing aids that cost $3,000 each. Needing aids in both ears, I shelled out a total of $6,000. Fortunately I had invested my money carefully over the years, and I could afford to pay for them. Little did I know that my hearing troubles were not going away, but merely switching to another kind of problem.
My new hearing aids brought the world of sound back into my life, but something wasn't right. Yes, I could hear better, but it wasn't hearing as I remembered it. There was a tinny quality to it, and I had to push a tiny button on my right hearing aid to go from level to level. If I failed to learn the different levels of hearing, the aids didn't work so well. Level one was the universal level, supposedly good for "most" situations. If I switched to level two, I could hear the upper decibels of the sound spectrum, and it helped me to hear the television more clearly (and movies too if I decided to go out to an actual theater to see the latest hot film. I had Netflix after all.). Level three was a bit of a miracle: if I positioned the telephone properly on my left ear, the sound could be heard in both ears. At first I was concerned about the invisible sound waves going from one ear through the brain into the other ear, but I dismissed this thought as over-thinking my situation.
Level four was the "Loop," When I went to lectures, concerts, meetings, or other programs in the main assembly hall of the retirement home, I could press the tiny button three times and the Loop would kick in. The sound was the most clear at that setting because it would feed through the external microphone system directly into the hearing aids of anyone who had the loop feature turned on.
But wait a minute! Something still wasn't right. For $6,000, I expected perfect hearing, and I expected these so-called 'invisible' hearing aids to deliver on the promise. Why wasn't it happening??? What's up?
Then I suddenly got it! It was the "human factor." These young and middle-aged people putting on the program were talking too fast. I could hear the sound of them talking, but I couldn't understand their gibberish. The sound of their voices were blurring together into one mass of verbiage. Even when only one person was speaking, it didn't help. It sounded as if all the words were being run together:
"I'mheretodaytobringyouthelatestaboutblablabla...." First of all, I couldn't distinguish one word from another and, secondly, my mind seemed to be slower. I needed time to process ideas. I needed these young folks to slow down, enunciate their words, and give me time to think about what they were saying. And worst of all were those speakers who tapered their voices off into almost no volume at the end of every sentence! Maybe they were hearing themselves clearly inside their own heads, but many in the audience could neither hear or understand the completion of their thought!
This is the experience of almost every person who begins to lose their hearing.
Here it is in a nutshell:
-- Grandma Ruth
Today I presided over my first meeting as the president of the Resident Advisory Council at the retirement home where I live. You may think that it's not such a big deal, but it is.
There are almost 500 people living here of which 140 live in what we call Independent Living. The rest reside in assisted living, memory care, or in our nursing home. This is a Life Plan Retirement Community, formerly known as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) where people who actually planned for their old age can be assured of care for the rest of their life.
Trust me. You don't want to grow old without the resources to buy the health care that you will need. Not to frighten you, but it's weird how many different things can go wrong when all you did was slide into an age that you never anticipated would arrive. Certainly not to you! Delusion-ally, you thought that you preferred to die before becoming an ancient, wrinkled, unattractive, old sod. You probably didn't even think that it was happening until you were already into it, and then you found yourself scrambling to put some savings in place. Because old friend, you never realized how much you wanted to hang on to life until death was peeking around the corner at you.
At age eighty-five, I'm still surprised how many of us old guys still function so well, even though all around us others are failing. Here at this retirement home, people range in age from early seventies to over a hundred, and we are as different from one another as can be, but more on that later.
I must stop for now. I need to send an email to the head of our Environmental Services. A resident at this retirement home made a brilliant observation at the Resident Advisory Council that I must follow up on.
When I come back, I will begin telling you stories about people who grew old and how they handled it. I think you will be surprised. Some will please you, and others will make you profoundly sad. Yet others will lead you to think "how on earth could anyone get themselves into such a mess?"