Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Golden Years

This started out as a blog about writing, but, as usual, life got in the way. Between work and our neighbor, the only free time I have is spent drinking. Thank god for pinot noir.

Andys place in the memory unit at Grand Villa
Update: Our 80-year-old neighbor, Andy, has been in assisted living for a week. Moving day was exhausting, traumatic. He was furious at us for “going behind his back.” Of course, we’d talked about it for months, he just didn’t remember. After the first few hours, he came around to liking his new apartment, said he was proud to be able to afford such a nice place. He even thanked us for our help.

The next morning, he took a swing at a nurse. He asked us to call a lawyer to spring him. He told an aide that if he ever saw her on the outside, he’d kill her. The pictures we framed to remind him of his old life are stashed in a drawer “where no one will steal them.” The doctors are trying a cocktail of drugs to level him out. Good luck, I think, after knowing the old crank for 16 years. We’re praying now that he won’t be kicked out.

People praise Graeme and me for what we’re doing, helping an elderly man of no relation to us. If they only knew the anger, the frustration I feel toward him. Andy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease eight years ago. He was smart enough, aware enough, to draw up his papers. He was too damned stubborn to do anything else. We begged him to find a place with “a little more help” where he could live out his life, cared for and safe. “Make your own decision,” we said, “before someone else makes it for you.” I never dreamed we’d be the ones making the choice.

Andy in the Air Force, 1957
And I’m sure Andy never dreamed he’d be in this position. Denial is a powerful thing. None of us really believe we’ll get old, not like other people. We’ll die in our sleep after parachuting out of a plane on our 95th birthday. (Or we hope, picking up that double cheeseburger, that the heart attack will be—snap your fingers—quick.) We joke about nursing homes but secretly assume our families will take care of us. I suppose those of you with kids imagine your little darlings who can’t clean their rooms will grow up to change your diapers. Graeme and I, having no kids, can’t cling to that illusion.

This whole discussion is morbid, I know, which is why nobody ever has it. After this week, Graeme and I have already talked about long-term care insurance. Who wants to go there? You can bet I’ll take my health more seriously now. Stress kills brain cells, which means that this past year with Andy probably doomed me to early-onset dementia. Maybe I can get a group discount at the home.

All kidding aside, I’d beg of my friends one thing: Don’t take your health for granted. (If you smoke, I’m looking at you.) Give yourself a fighting chance at a spry old age, so we can look back in 30 years and laugh about my doomsday predictions. Be the ant who plans for the winter. Don’t be the grasshopper who lands at Grand Villa.