What happens to too many of the elderly in their waning years is they get pushed out of their homes into assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Kicked to the curb, out of sight, out of mind. It used to be that families took care of their own, the youngest learning valuable lessons in patience and caring from the oldest.
But times are changing and the Baby Boomer generation, just beginning to march into its final decades en masse, is not going there quietly. They are staying young longer, intent on playing Kick the Can to the end of their days. As a whole, they are more vital, more engaged, more “with it” than any group to approach life’s final stage before them. And as a group, they are healthier and more active, too – no going gentle into Dylan Thomas’s good night for them.
Still, if we live long enough, our children will likely assume the parental mantel as far as we are concerned. It’s inevitable.
Frankly, it’s a bit scary to contemplate that possibility as the numbers rack up one year after the next. One minute a vibrant, youthful figure stares back at you in the mirror. The next – you recognize nothing but the eyes – and in them what you thought would always be. It’s a cruel trick someone has played on you – some kind of voodoo magic in a scene from The Skeleton Key where a young women finds herself trapped in an old woman’s dying body (a scary metaphor, good movie). Look what happened to you when your back was turned.
To demonstrate the ease with which this happens, let’s consider the man with a comb-over. The most egregious example of a comb-over is the one belonging to Donald Trump. Can’t he see what he looks like? No, because it has happened gradually, over a long period of time. A few missing hairs here, a few empty spots there. Growing the hair that’s left longer and combing it over the bare spots to cover them up. More hair falls out. More gets combed over. Pretty soon – Voila! You’ve become your own version of “The Donald.” He has time to accustom himself to his look and sees nothing extraordinary, but those who see him infrequently think, Whoa – when did that happen?
Role reversal begins in small increments, too. Slippery throw rugs get tacked down or removed so Mom doesn’t slip. Handrails are added to outside steps so Dad has something to hold on to for stability. Parents, moving slower and hearing less, forget to pay the electric bill, and their forty-something kids freak out. After a couple of “close calls” with the car, Janie threatens to take away the car keys and buy her parents a bus pass. Mom falls. It’s no biggie, she tells her Johnny, but he says she was lucky. Nothing broke. But what about next time? He suggests a cane, or maybe a walker – just for around the house because she won’t let anyone see her this way. The burner on the stove is left on, and it’s a miracle the house didn’t burn down. Your parents say it’s just one mistake; they say it every time “one mistake” happens. They’re in denial.
Aren’t we all?
One’s grown children begin to take over, help parents wade through the medical issues some of them begin to face, and goad them into wearing some life-alert-thing around their necks to connect them to help 24/7. It’s going to happen to us, too, but our day is a quite a way off.
It is, isn’t it? Yes, of course. A long way off.
All I know is I can still zip up my jacket and button my own coat, and will do that myself, thank you very much – though I do have Bill buckle my dance shoes for me if the polish on my fingernails hasn’t fully dried. I move the porch furniture into the basement and garage when fall comes and carry it all back out in the spring, and periodically rearrange the furniture, on my own for the most part. My efforts at the gym have not been wasted.
My advice? Never stop playing Kick the Can – it made the elderly young again, literally, on The Twilight Zone. Leave people thinking of you as always having been young by being as active as you can and saying yes to every opportunity that presents itself. Maintain old friendships and make new ones with younger people, too. Stay on the front page, not relegated to the bottom corner of the back pages of some obscure and antiquated text.
Baby Boomers are front-page news. They are kicking that can down the road, moving into old age and beyond with a fire to learn and do more than any previous group of senior citizens, ever.
They have options – and they are exercising every single one of them.