HAYDEN HOLLINGSWORTH: Growing Old Gracefully: Good Luck!

Hayden Hollingsworth
Hayden Hollingsworth

I’ve been giving some thought to aging of late. It seems odd that for decades most of us ignore the inevitability of it. Many use the Scarlet O’Hara technique: I’ll think about it tomorrow. Well, tomorrow comes with surprising speed and often has unexpected surprises.

There are, however, some benefits to growing old. Kidnappers are no longer interested in you. You can tell all your secrets to your old friends because they won’t remember them. You are no longer considered a hypochondriac. Your supply of brains cells is finally down to a manageable number. That’s just a few of the things to which we can look forward.

It’s a serious matter, this growing old, and it’s best not to avoid thinking about it. My adult daughters were the first to notice. Several years ago, they asked, “Have you considered what you will do when you can no longer live alone?” “Have you ladies been talking behind my back?” I responded. That started the ball rolling and this past month it came to rest (along with me) in a retirement home.

The transition has been as smooth as possible, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. For most it is a change that ranks right up there with marriage, the birth of children, or a major profession change, to name the most obvious.

There are a number of areas in which the shock of such a move can be modified. The first is being proactive rather than waiting until there is a disaster that precipitates immediate action.
One of the most common is a fall. After the age of 65 there is a one in three chance there will be a fall within the next year. Broken hips, particularly in women, are the most common. Forty percent of the victims never return home, 20% never walk independently again.

This is true, in spite of the wonderful advances in surgery and rehabilitation. The elderly should pay careful attention to every step taken. Surprisingly, there is great resistance to using a cane, but it can be a huge safeguard against a life-altering fall. Vanity (give it up!) is a close cousin to denial.

The task of closing down a home in which one has lived for decades is a daunting, if not insurmountable job. Having a batch of helpful daughters and grandchildren is an immense help. The tottering adult can sit in a captain’s chair and direct the packing. The Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill and other agencies are more than happy to pick up items that need to be abandoned.

The onerous work of sorting, especially from the vantage point of the director, is emotionally very taxing. Moving to a space much smaller than a home requires rigorous criteria for what will not be making the move. Memorabilia also take up space, so most of them have to go. Be grateful that the memories they carry can make the trip.

Downsizing is going to happen to each of us. Sudden death, Mother Nature’s way of telling us to slow down, will shift the burden to our survivors. Moving from your large home to a cozy apartment means when the final event occurs, the job of cleaning up what is left will have largely been done.

For those who have adult children, the move will lift a great burden from them. When we were younger and had elderly parents living independently, most of us can remember the call in the middle of the night when an emergency demanded immediate intervention. When the elderly parent is safely ensconced in a protected environment, the younger members of the family can rest much more comfortably in that knowledge.

There is much more to be said, but two immutable facts should be remembered. First, barring a sudden demise, change of this nature is going to happen. Second, it is far better to plan for it and spare those whom we love the angst of having to improvise an unplanned scramble through a crisis.

Finally, who knows what interesting opportunities lie in this final chapter that we all must write? Good luck, indeed!

Hayden Hollingsworth