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The bitter realities of growing old

After one week in first grade, my daughter came home with a conclusion about life: “Life is hard and then you die.” She had homework.

Fast forward that through job losses, divorces, chronic ailments and famiy tragedies for 60 years and we are on the cusp of old age. She was right. We have survived the hard life; now the bitter facts of old age are upon us.

Looking at the bright side of a 20-year decline on the way eternity, we should be glad we were not Seth, Enosh, Kenan or the rest of that 800-year Bible patriarchs who must have had arthritis for 230 years and incontinence for 195.

COVID Complications

In more ways than one, COVID was a curse for the elderly. We didn’t have the ears for it. First, we hung our hearing aids on our ears; then we hooked our mask around our ears, and finally we put on our glasses.

Most people don’t have enough ear to handle that collection so they have to choose between going deaf, going sightless, or risking COVID.

They say that old age creeps up on folks, which is another undocumented claim. We can see it coming down the road years before it strikes. We get a clue when the doctor’s best diagnosis is “well, you aren’t a spring chicken, you know.” No, we didn’t know that but we do now.

Hearing Slips Away

Hearing is something that will slip away on us unknowingly. On a visit to see if dad shouldn’t be relocated, my kids told me that my hearing was slipping. So they tested me with the car turn signal. I failed because it couldn’t hear it click.

“So,” I asked, “how did you know?” to which they replied “Every time we came to visit the TV was louder.”

One of the greatest challenges for our keepers is getting possession of our car keys. We know that they know that we know we can’t plan trips to Bismarck if we have to walk. And we’re too suspicious of strangers to hitchhike.

Besides, they might be immigrants.

Car Keys, Please

Before our keepers make the big effort, they gather the evidence. It is true that we ripped up the neighbor’s grand prize tulip bed while we were diverted by a pair of rabbits. Hitting the beautiful white birch near the driveway was too much. Once might have been forgiven but not twice. The car was totaled both times.

As a compromise, our keepers let us keep the car as long as we don’t drive it. If the car is near at hand, we can at least dream of driving to the Dairy Queen for a tasty sundae. Elderly and loss of memory go together. A prosecutor will never pick an elderly person to be a witness…to anything. A Sunday school leader will never start an elderly class for memorizing Bible verses. (Of course, one lesson could be used a whole year.) If we shop for more than 10 minutes, we forget where we parked and report it stolen.

Heavy Lying

Then there is the crisis of getting a hopeless case into a nursing home. This is when the heavy lying starts. But it is moral lying because it is for their own good. God is on your side.

“We will come to see you every week.” “Uncle Bert will join you soon.” “This is just temporary until we find a better place.” “The food is better than at home.” “I have an errand right now but I’ll be right back.”

Meanwhile, be wary of gravity. We never fall up, only down and down hurts.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

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