Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Geriatric Spats

The spat begins on one of two themes:

I am deaf.

I am losing my mind.

And Bob is frantically worried about both possibilities.

I have to admit: I don't hear well in my left ear. I have trouble hearing at all in a crowded room. I am concerned.

"So I don't understand," Bob said the other day while our friend Kim was visiting. "Why don't you go to Dr. Carter and get a referral for a hearing evaluation? Why do you keep putting it off?"

Kim and I answered as one: "Because Dr. Carter would make us weigh in and we're both feeling fat-- and don't want to get in trouble with her."

Kim sighed. "My husband thinks I'm deaf, too," she said. "But I won't go in to see Dr. Carter until I've lost 10 pounds."

Bob shook his head, stunned at our insanity in unison.

The losing my mind spat has a bit more urgency. Bob gets concerned when, lost in my thoughts, I walk right by someone I know without seeing him or her.  "I'm so worried," he said. "Sometimes, you just don't pay attention to the world around you."

It happened again yesterday on our way into the local supermarket.

I had found a small cart -- at a premium in our location -- and was walking into the market shrouded in a barrage of thoughts:

Will I be able to write the books I'm longing to write? To get those proposals in to my agent before he loses interest -- or retires?

Will Bob find help at the Epilepsy Center when we have our first visit next week? Will he have to start a new medication? Is it possible to regulate his epilepsy related mood swings so that he can enjoy life more consistently? Will he continue to be unable to drive for the next few months while he adjusts to his medication? 

Will I manage to drive us everywhere without a major traffic incident or marital unrest over my driving/Bob's backseat driving? It's no small thing. My driving isn't what it used to be. I've had a couple of undeniable near misses lately. Am I reaching the point in life, already, when I really shouldn't be driving?

Will I ever get to L.A. to meet my new little nephew Henry before he gets out of the adorable baby stage and into the screaming stranger anxiety phase of life?

What's happening with my friend Mary and when can I manage my next visit with her?

Is it a mistake to be going to my 45th college reunion in October -- especially now that I've read that Northwestern accepted a major cash donation from the notorious Koch brothers (and so I'm not sure I even like my alma mater anymore)?

What's happening with my sister and her health problems? Why hasn't she called back? What if she's in real trouble and is just too depressed to ask for help?

Can I stand another three months of vitriolic political campaigning and, even more, the smug, omnipresent face of Paul Ryan, my personal pick for most loathsome politician in a very crowded bipartisan field of loathsomeness? Is democracy dead? Are we sliding irrevocably into an era of darkness?

"Kathy!" Bob's urgent tone halted my reverie. "I can't believe it. You just walked by Jake, our Fitness Director you see every day. But this time, you didn't even see him! You're doing this a lot. You're losing it! I'm really afraid..."

Harrumping, I headed for the vegetable aisle. "I was just thinking...." I said, more than a little defensively.

"You don't think there's anything the matter, do you?"

I stopped, suddenly upset. "I don't know," I said.

I don't think I'm losing it.  Of course, neither does a dear friend's husband who is definitely in the tragic grip of dementia.  He can't understand why she won't let him drive or why she has hired caregivers to be with him when she can't be. Am I in similar denial? 

I got an email from Kim this morning: "My husband and I had a spat yesterday and I don't even remember what it was about," she wrote. "I think somewhere along the way, one of us said something about Alzheimer's...."

And I think about the ghosts and goblins of older age. When we were young, we feared monsters in our closets and alligators under the bed. When we were a little older, some of us feared that we wouldn't lose our virginity before a nuclear holocaust would blow up the world. Still later, some of us feared not finding a good job or true love or not making it to retirement.

Now that we're retired, there are new fears: losing our senses, our mobility, our independence.

And so many of our spats and squabbles these days are around those with themes like

Why don't you take better care of yourself?

Why don't you seek medical help for something that could be so easily fixed?

Why don't you keep more active mentally and physically -- so you don't lose it?

Behind so many of these sentiments is an urgent fear: the fear of decline, disease and death, the fear of losing each other in so many ways in the days to come. And sometimes these fears collide with fierce denial or fearful self-examination:

Could I really need a hearing aid?

Am I not as sharp as I used to be?

Is this the beginning of the big decline?

And so we go around and around with our concerns and our fears and our denials -- with a sense of anticipatory loss and grief as we spar with each other.

Bob and I were still discussing my possible decline yesterday as we unloaded groceries from the back of our new SUV. "I'm leaving the hatchback up because I'm going back for the bags of cat litter," he told me as we left the garage. I nodded, still irritated and anxious, wondering if he might be right about my losing it.

Seven hours later, my cell phone rang. "Kathy, are you all right?"

It was the voice of our next door neighbor Judith.  "Carl and I noticed your garage door and car hatchback open when we left the house at 2:30 this afternoon," she said. "We just got back. It's 9:30 and your garage door and car hatchback are STILL wide open."

"Bob!" I called, barely suppressing my giggles of glee. "You forgot to get the cat litter, close the car and the garage!"

"Oh, jeez!" he muttered, rushing past me.

And between my chuckles, the worry sprang up. I wondered "Is he losing it?" Such a minor thing. So easy to forget something like that. It's probably nothing. But still....since we've been talking about losses...

And I made the decision then and there -- as we all do day to day -- to simply feel blessed that today, right now, we're okay, competent and in love. We may walk a bit more slowly. We may not hear each other as well. We may be a little forgetful. But, for today, we're just fine. 

We have no guarantees about next year, next week or even tomorrow. But today, right this minute, life is undeniably good. 


  1. Do you live in my head and in my house?????? Just saying, you either read my mind, or overheard the remarks of my children and husband to have been able to write this!

    I did think my husband was either having dementia problems or I was crazy after conversation after conversation where all lost to him as if they never happened. The more he remembered nothing I said, the more anxious he became and we both were nearly paralyzed by fear and anxiety. Then, he got the hearing test and hearing aids. I had my husband back. He had a mind and a memory, and he admitted he had not heard a thing I had said for a very long time and was suck in denial. Get the hearing test!

    I hear you loud and clear on this, Kathy. You summed it all up well. I made the same decision some time ago: live day by day, moment by moment.

    You write to well for someone losing her mind, but then what do I know??? For this moment, I feel quite sane and in the present. Who knows how I will be in an hour. Now, I remember I said I would start dinner, so I mustn't forget or there will be that talk again. Or, maybe, I will purposefully forget to fix dinner and see if I get banned from turning on the stove because I am too forgetful. Wouldn't that be a shame?

  2. Your philosophy is perfect. We can't change anything like that by stressing about it or arguing about it, and it shameful to let needless worries rob the joy and grace from a day. So bravo to you, my friend!

  3. I've heard some people say that they thought they were loosing their hearing. When they went to the doctor it was as simple as they had a wax buildup and needed their ears cleaned. Their hearing was fine after that. You never know, it could be that simple with your hearing too! I also thought you were going to say that you were walking around texting on your phone like the teens do! lol Just yesterday I sent my 14 year old daughter into a store to look at the clothes while I sat on the bench with my 8 year old son whose tummy was bothering him. I watched her through the window. There she was walking around looking at that stupid phone and not even looking at the clothes! lol Fine with me if she doesn't buy any clothes! lol Also, everyone in my house forgets to do things every single day around here. Plus it's true we have to just live day to day and minute by minute otherwise we will go crazy worrying about tomorrow and next week. I hope everything is better tomorrow for you!

  4. Oh yes! These are the real situations we face in our golden/rusty years. I'm making checklists before we leave the house, where to stop first, what to buy, where to eat. Yet, we get distracted easily, and worry about "losing" it.
    Great post, Kathy.

  5. I really can relate to your post tonight. I get so involved in thought that I can walk past someone and as we age I wonder did I do this or that. As our doctor reminded me Monday, you take every day you are given, if you want to go someplace do it. You don't know what tomorrow will bring. I appreciated your post so very much. Your Missouri Friend.

  6. Hi Kathy......when I read the title of your post....I thought you were going to post about some kind of old people...FOOTWEAR....LOL LOL....but obviously I was totally off the mark. Old people and fighting just seem to go together....perhaps it is because we have learned to do it so well over all the years. (O:(O:(O:

    xo Jo

  7. I am sure that you could not have written what I just read if you were losing your mind. But it is a fear that all of us elderly people have in the back of our minds. I worry about it every day. A lovely post to read, and it gives me hope for my poor old brain.

  8. I so enjoy your thought provoking well written blog! I have NEVER had a good memory and being older certainly hasn't helped. I keep reminding myself I am one of the lucky ones, here, living with someone I love and enjoying so many things about life. Now if he just would.......LOL.

  9. Thanks for all your wonderful comments! It's reassuring to see that we all worry about the same things. I went to Dr. Carter today (and, yeah, she weighed me but didn't scold) and she is referring me to an audiologist for a hearing evaluation. But she says that I am definitely not losing it, not demented in the least -- just a bit anxious.

  10. Dear Kathy, I'm glad to read your comment among the other comments. Glad to learn that you are going to an audiologist and that you went to see Dr. Carter and learned that your mind is still sharp and active. Still decisive. Still curious. Still questioning the life and the journey we're on.

    Actually, I read this post and forgot about breathing because I was so with you with regard to the myriad questions that besiege my mind each day: shall I move? will I ever get an agent? will my Palestine novel ever excite an agent or editor? will the cats be okay while I'm gone? will all the appliances work for another year? do I have the money to buy another book from Amazon? on and on and on.

    And so the ending of your posting truly spoke to me. The answer lies in living this moment as fully as we can. Embracing its gift to us of being. And I so need to be reminded of that. Often. Thank you for your wisdom and your honesty. Peace.

  11. Dear Kathy, I wrote a long response to this posting, but it seems to have gotten lost in the ether net. So just let me say, quite simply, "Thank you." Peace.

  12. This is a fascinating post for me because I see so much of myself in your words. Like, when I get up in the morning and realize the garage door was left open all night. Like gaining 20 pounds since Christmas -- partly from meds, partly I think, from depression and stress. Crying every day before I go to work. Am I crying for Gypsy, for my job, for my weight? Here's a fun fact that you may or may not have discovered -- it's a heck of a lot harder to exercise and get in shape when your body already hurts from carrying so much of it around!

    Sometimes I think we carry so much in our brains -- all the stress of the day, the family obligations, the sorrows, the fears of retirement and wondering if there will be enough to live on and how to change if there's not, losing your best fur friend. We carry guilt and hopes and fears for ourselves and others. Sometimes it's just hard to put it all in order, to go do the things we need to do.

    I'm certainly fighting those demons. But one of the things that gets me through every day is that I know I'm not the only one. It's not a great motivation, but it is one that works.

    I am starting to take better care of myself in some very tangible ways. I'm glad to hear that you are too. (Good luck with the audiologist and Dr. C. It will be all right.)