getting really old is a bitch

Don’t get me wrong. I admire eldergloggers like Ronni Bennett and Marian Van Eyk McCain who set great examples of how dynamic and influential individuals over 65 can be.
While Ronni is right in championing elder pride and publicizing elder capability, the truth also is that there is a reason for the stereotypes of the little old lady and man who hold up the checkout line because they pay for their purchases in small change, try to get rambling conversations going with the checkout person, take forever to wheel their carts out of the supermarket door, and drive as though there are no other cars on the road. I always seem to be just behind them at checkout. My point is that there are many numbers of older elders in every community who try everyone else’s patience.
For four years I lived with my mother in an upscale Senior Citizen building (250 apartments) that also housed the town’s Senior Center, which offered all kinds of great programs, from dance to discussion, as well as the kinds of banal activities Ronni cites. I got to know lots of the women (the population was mostly female) who lived there. A large number of those I knew eschewed any of the activities in favor of sitting around the lobby and complaining. I found that the women I knew who were over 75 — probably because of the dependent and housewifely lives they led before they lost their spouses — had no interests outside of their aches and pains and piddling gossip. Those elders who had active intellectual and/or physical lives before reaching 70 (barring any severe illnesses) always seemed to be able to find places and ways to stay lively. But where I lived, those were in the minority.
I will be 67 next month, and I think I can still kick butt pretty well on any number of fronts. But in ten years or fifteen years (or maybe even before; who really knows) I might well be one of those annoying old ladies at the checkout counter. It won’t be that I plan to be or want to be. Rather it will be because I am the victim of whatever the aging process will be doing to my mind and body.
So, while we’re telling the world that we are still a contributing force in society, we should also remind the world that most of us who will manage to live long lives might well find our force severely diminished. We will need compassion and comfort and understanding and patience.
As my Polish grandmother (who died in her early seventies) used to say, “Staroszcz nie radoszcz.” Which, loosely translated means getting old is a bitch.
Nevertheless, somewhere before life’s last wanings, there is, for many of us, a rich eldertime that is both Ronni’s and Marian’s focus, and this piece captures it all beautifully.

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