Things I’ll Do Differently When I’m Old



After literally hundreds of falls, none of which persuaded him to accept help or use a walker, Dad, at 87, finally came down hard and broke four ribs. That accident jump-started the slide that led to his death. I ask myself: Will my self-awareness triumph over my own (apparently genetic) stubbornness?

So on my list is what I told my dad time and again:

“I’ll try to remember that the best way to stay independent is to accept smaller degrees of dependence or assistance. I’ll use a walker rather than fall and break bones.”

A friend of mine put it this way: “I will use a walker so I won’t fall, even when it wrecks my outfit.” Designer walkers, anyone?

I’ll admit that vanity drives a number of my dos and don’ts. About eight years in I wrote:

“I will not blame the family dog on my lap for my incontinence. I will choose the humiliation of wearing adult diapers over the humiliation of wetting my bed and having someone else clean the sheets.”

For years, my dad chose the latter. Heck, maybe I’ll even grow in my self-acceptance so that I won’t view incontinence as humiliation.

I also want to maintain some style. Right until the end my mother, who died earlier this year, continued to have her hair styled and colored, and her manicured nails painted her trademark Jungle Red. I wrote:

“If I can’t take care of my personal grooming any more, I will find help. If I don’t care about my personal grooming any more, I will find different help.” At the very least I want to be clean — and smell fresh, like Mom — so people sit by me and hold my hand.

“Whiten teeth” is also on my list. A friend of mine has this entry on her list: “Wear pants that touch the tops of my shoes at least.”

My list also acknowledges my quickness to anger, which is a trait I shared with both parents. A year before Mom’s death her aide repeatedly asked her to do some post-surgical breathing exercises prescribed by the oncologist, but which she hated doing because they were challenging. One afternoon, Mom, in deep frustration, lashed out at the aide using language I’m too embarrassed to repeat, and I was the one who took the aide’s call of justified complaint. Onto my list went:

“If I’m hurt or angry by what’s happening to me or my body, I will do my best not to take it out on those who are closest to me.”

“I will be kind.”

“I will apologize.”

As I march onward from 60, I continue to pay attention and maintain my list. But I remain mindful of what one friend told me: “The important thing is to remember no matter how much we tell ourselves we won’t be like our parents, no matter how hard and fast we run in the other direction, we become them.”

Please, no!

Ironically, I have some guidance on that as well. My grandmother, the one who fell on the subway, once made a similar list, which I found among my father’s papers. Hers included:

1. Do not fall.

2. Work on controlling forgetfulness

3. Think before you speak

4. Eat moderately and no rich desserts

5. Do the best you can. Learn by your errors.

I certainly hope to learn from her errors, and my parents’, and avoid making too many of my own. Mostly I hope to be able to judge when to stop adding to the list, and start following its advice.

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