December 17, 2009

Fallen

I'm afraid of spiders, dislike flying and have an absurd aversion to leftovers. But few things terrify me. The single thing that does is old age. Or, rather, becoming a senile, Alzheimers-ridden old man, with the full understanding that my life is slipping away from me and the inability to do a damn thing about it

I wish I could pretend to be braver, stronger than this, but the truth is my grandfather freaked me out. Several years ago, he began a fairly steep and swift decline into an Alzheimer's haze. The changes were profound, mentally and physically recognizable. But it was the unpredictability this brought that scared me the most. The toll the illness took on my family was massive. As was the sense of relief when his suffering ended. To this day, I still have dreams in which my grandfather switches back and forth, between his normal personality and the one in which the disease took hold.

My great uncle was an Air Force fighter pilot in Europe during World War II. He was later a diplomat in Poland. My mom recalls times he visited them, the dashing uniformed soldier. My great aunt performed his intelligence debriefing when he returned to the States during the war. That's how they met. Last week she died. Her decline was neither steep nor fast. Alzheimer's took its time catching up with her and when it finally did, it refused to let her grow gracefully. She spent the last year of her life in bed. I doubt she knew what was happening to her. I hope she didn't know what was happening to her.

My great uncle, the once-dashing soldier, spent the last week asking where his Mary was. He was told, he cried, then he forgot. Yesterday, she was buried. Beth and I attended the services, watching this once-debonair man get wheeled into the church, watching him reduced to tears as he missed his wife. But he is doing better. We spent some time together yesterday, laughing, talking. He's planning on spending Christmas with us, looking forward to seeing the kids, hoping to spend time with family.

Where does old age rate in your list of fears? Or does it?

* * * * *
As if I needed any additional proof that you guys rock, I got a lot of comments yesterday. I haven't added everything up yet and deleted some of the duplicate comments but if that number holds - given the matching in place by some pretty awesome people - that's right around $200. Yesterday wasn't the happiest of days, with the funeral and all. But seeing the comments come pouring in definitely helped. Thank you, quite sincerely. Posted by Chris at December 17, 2009 7:00 AM
Comments

I am sorry for your loss.

Old age is not something I think about in a fearful way but more like a proceed with caution type of way.

Posted by: William at December 17, 2009 8:04 AM

Tough day. But, not to sound like a fortune cookie, that's life. Try if you can to balance yesterday out by remembering the joyful days your children were born.

I too am afraid of Alzheimer’s. But at least if it happens, you'll never know you’re eating leftovers.

Posted by: Marshall Karp at December 17, 2009 8:08 AM

I'm sorry for your loss. I get very emotional when I see someone grieve a loss of their spouse when they've been married so many years. It's, in an odd way I suppose, lovely to know that someone was loved so deeply.

I fear all forms of dementia. I know that if you live long enough most will experience some type and Alzheimer's is a very bitter form. I've sat thru several presentations on Alzheimer's and dementia (part of my job) and I listen to the signs and symptoms and my brain starts to explode when I think "oh no! I forget names easily!" but then I have to remember that is also a sign of someone that is taking on too many things at once. But deep inside...I worry it's the beginning. Then, of course, I forget the name of the presenter. ;)

Posted by: daisy at December 17, 2009 8:25 AM

I'm terrified of Alzheimers, too. It's awful to mourn the death of your loved one while he/she is still alive but that's what the disease is like. It turns them into people we don't recognize anymore.

Posted by: Wack-a-do at December 17, 2009 8:39 AM

Chris, I'm so sorry for your loss.

Growing old terrifies me. Not the "getting old" part, but the "perhaps getting Alzheimers" part. My dad's father had it, and so did both my mom's parents. But my dad's father had it the worst and the longest. It was years and years of it. Some days he had good days, but most were not. I finally stopped visiting him (I carry a ton of guilt for this), because I didn't want to remember him that way. He used to be so strong and full of life. The day that hurt me the most was when he looked at my dad and asked him who the hell he was. I walked out and broke down. But, on a more happy note, right before he died, after a straight year of no more good days, he looked up at my Grandmother and told her, "I've always loved you Rose." Ack. I have to go cry now.

Posted by: js at December 17, 2009 9:15 AM

I plan to think about it when I am old... seriously. I figure if I stress out about it now I am not going to enjoy my "younger" years. My mom spent most of her life in fear of growing old and drove me crazy over this (and still does!)

I decided from a young age that I was not going to fear growing old like she did and by keeping myself focused on the present that helps. Not to say that it does not creep into my thoughts here and there but it keeps any fear at bay for the future, I guess!

Posted by: Christina at December 17, 2009 9:26 AM

I'm sorry about your great-aunt. It is sad to see how much diseases like Alzheimer's can change people. It's also kind of beautiful, though. So many men of that generation were raised never to show their feelings, but when it comes to the end, they can finally say how much their wives mean to them.

Posted by: Julie at December 17, 2009 9:32 AM

I'm so sorry Chris. But I'm so glad your great uncle is spending Christmas with you. Tears and all.

Posted by: k8 at December 17, 2009 9:43 AM

My fear is conditional if I can stay healthy and independent, then... no fear. I don't want to lose who I am and be dependent on the people I love to provide my care. That frightens me. :(

My condolences for your loss.

Posted by: sarah at December 17, 2009 9:44 AM

First off, I'm very sorry to hear about your great aunt. My great uncle, who also had Alzheimer's, recently passed away as well, so I understand how hard the disease can be on a family.

While I can oddly relate to your fear of spiders, flying, and leftovers, I just don't feel the same way about aging. In fact, I look forward to it. Old age is the "finish line" of life. It means I've lived long enough to know my children and grandchildren. As for fear of dementia... well, in addition to a family history of Alzheimer's, I also have Huntington's disease to contend with. That can strike at any age. I try not to worry about it. There's so much crap that can happen to you throughout life. Losing your mind is almost guaranteed.

Posted by: April at December 17, 2009 9:44 AM

So sorry for your loss. Age and getting older never really scared me until my little one came into my life. It was then that I truly understand how precious life really is.

Posted by: DCUrbanDad at December 17, 2009 10:31 AM

I never thought about growing old until I became the parent of a special needs child. Now I worry every day that I'm not going to live long enough to take care of him. However long that may take, however much he may or may not need from me. I quit smoking. I started running. And hopefully I'll last long enough that my baby will always be taken care of. Or, if he doesn't need me hovering and taking care of him, I'll be able to be one of those skydiving, cruise taking, margaritas at midnight grandmas.

I am sorry for your family's loss. I hope that you are all able to be together for the holidays and find love and comfort in each other.

Posted by: Sara at December 17, 2009 10:37 AM

I'm sorry for your loss. :(
I haven't seen Alzheimer's up close yet, but the idea of it definitely terrifies me. My grandmother is in her 80s now and definitely fading mentally, and she's not very much the woman she used to be, and it's sad. Thankfully, as it's just the usual old-age dementia and not the dreaded Alzheimer's, she still knows who we all are, she just forgets more mundane things. The hardest is seeing her depression and apathy, and when she was hospitalized a while back, the "Just let me die!" and even worse, watching it break my grandfather's heart.

Posted by: Heather at December 17, 2009 11:00 AM

My old age fears come not for myself, but for my parents in the sense that I'm afraid that they will be gone before I get married or have children. I'm 27 and they are going on 66...it already breaks my heart not having anymore grandparents to watch me go down the eisle or have children, yet alone my own parents.

My grammy on my mom's side had Alzheimer's. I too hold some guilt that I didn't go visit her on some occassions b/c it broke my heart to see her as this trapped woman who used to be so vibrant and outgoing. The disease crippled her so much that when my family did go visit her, she thought my parents were her parents. But somehow she always could remember who I was. Thankfully she passed quietly in her sleep and no longer has to endure such a horrible disease; not just for herself, but it's a difficult disease that engulfs the whole family.

Posted by: Michelle at December 17, 2009 11:15 AM

I'm so sorry about your great-aunt.

I'll be 72 in April and believe me my body outliving my mind is something I think about probably more than I should. Terrified is too strong a word - worry may describe it better. I wonder when I forget simple things if it's the beginning of something awful. So far it's not.

Posted by: Ann Elizabeth Adams at December 17, 2009 11:26 AM

Old age sux! My grandmother retired 25 years ago after working in a dry cleaners for 30 plus years. No assets, no savings, just social security. In the past five years her hearing has gone and then her ability to speak. She fell and broke her hip this summer and now lays in a bed in a medicare resthome. Unable to know what day it is, unable to hear or speak, unable to even go to the bathroom. In this room she has nothing, no personal books, not even her wedding ring (for fear it would get stolen). My mother at 66 also has no assets no savings and depends on me for everything. Her body is rapidly falling apart. What scares me, not having had children (and at 44 it's too late), is being 66 or 86 living in a bed, depending on strangers to feed me, clean me. I am however, saving for that part of life, but my spouse died suddenly 6 years ago at age 51...I'm scared I'll save and then not be here...

Posted by: rae at December 17, 2009 11:51 AM

I'm so sorry. I share your fears. No one in my family has suffered from this so far (knock on wood) so I'm hoping to avoid it.

Old age doesn't really rank in my list of fears, mostly because I'm in such a bad mental place at the moment, that I'm just praying to end it, either by becoming happy or, well, unbecoming. If this is what life is, I don't want to get old. I hope I don't end up old and miserable.

Posted by: Brooke at December 17, 2009 12:14 PM

My deepest sympathy to you and your family. My Mother and Grandmother both had this awful disease, and I do fear it, but am also in denial, as in "I will think about it another day".

Posted by: Micky at December 17, 2009 12:52 PM

My step father has that horrible disease as well and I have to agree it is them worst way to have to be old. I always thought I could handl the wrinkles, the aches and pains, but the not knowing your own children - that gets to me. I think the scariest thing about growing old is the realization that eventually there will come a point when your list of 'things to do before I die' becomes just a list that sits buried under a pile of books you meant to read. There just isn't enough time in this lifetime to do all the things you meant to.

Posted by: networkchic at December 17, 2009 2:01 PM

It rates for sure, but the alternative rates even higher...YIKES!

Posted by: kami at December 17, 2009 2:11 PM

That is so sad. I'm sorry for your loss.
I had an uncle that went through it and it was heartbreaking. Especially the emotional anger outbursts.... I don't fear old age because unless I do something stupid I'm destined to get really old.... (Grandmas was 102 when she passed....) The only thing I'm scared of is what's this world going to be like by the time I'm that old? At the rate we're going I'm going to be broke and living in a box somewhere :(

Posted by: Rose Winters at December 17, 2009 2:27 PM

I'm so sorry to hear about your loss.

Growing old doesn't scare me, per se, but losing my mind does. If it happens, I just hope it happens quick enough that I don't spend years knowing that I'm losing that functionality. I'm not sure how I'd handle that.

Posted by: Dawn at December 17, 2009 2:53 PM

Wow! A lot of readers are in similiar situations.

My dad has Alzheimer's and has for years. He has been doing fairly well considering. Aricept had really helped slow the progress of the disease. Then all of a sudden, wham, it is progressing rather swiftly.

We went to visit (they moved away 4 yrs ago why why?) and he took my son to get their traditional haircut together. Mom and I were watcing from the car outside. Luckily. He comes walking out and totally forgot that cute little boy in the barbers chair was his grandson.

Also, we arrived on Sunday night. By monday, he forgot who we were.

The family, to cope, we laugh and joke.

But this strong, brilliant man has changed so much it breaks my heart and I know if he could see himself, he would be so embarrassed. I hate the anger that he has. But what really kills me is seeing him cry. He has become so emotional and cries over everything. He is 83--one of the strong silent generation. To see him curled up sobbing like one of my children just rips my heart out.

My half-sisters--their mom also went through this though much more rapid. I see little symptoms in one of them. It worries me. Of cocurse most days I worry me, too.

Posted by: debb at December 17, 2009 3:22 PM

My sympathies.

My grandfather had alzheimers, so it really scares me.

Old age cripples me with anxiety.

Posted by: statia at December 17, 2009 3:23 PM

I can totally see your fear of growing old and senile. When my husband's grandfather was diagnosed with dementia, it was scary to watch him decline so quickly. That, combined with the several "mini" strokes he suffered were completely debilitating. To see that is frightening.

To put that fear into perspective: two weeks ago, my sister in law (who was also a very close friend) was killed in a car accident on her way to work. Having to bury my 30-year-old sister-in-law was beyond heartbreaking. I kept vacillating between which was worse--living a full life long into old age where you are met with suffering and loss of independence OR dying at the prime of your life, 8 months before you're to marry the man of your dreams, two months after moving into your dream house. . .

After serious thought, I think I'd take my chances with old age. The alternative scares me even more.

Posted by: Laura at December 17, 2009 3:49 PM

I've had very similar experiences with family and that is mt greatest fear as well. I'm not afraid of dying, I'm afraid of dying slowly and torturing my loved ones along the way.

Posted by: rai at December 17, 2009 3:49 PM

I've had very similar experiences with family and that is mt greatest fear as well. I'm not afraid of dying, I'm afraid of dying slowly and torturing my loved ones along the way.

Posted by: rai at December 17, 2009 3:50 PM

I understand your fear completely. For me, it's mental illness. My mother, my sister, and my daughter have each been taken, against their will, to psychiatric hospitals. It's terrifying to watch, horrible to live with, and even worse to know that I am from the same family tree. I always worry that I will "drop my basket". My friends, family, and those that love me are often forced to swear that if I begin to act irrationally that they will tell me right away. But, what if they don’t notice? If I put my keys down, and then can’t remember what I did with them?! Is that normal? Or am I going crazy? And what if it’s normal, AND I’m going crazy? How will I know??

Posted by: Stephanie at December 17, 2009 4:25 PM

My condolences on your loss.

Yes, the concept of becoming a prisoner in my own flesh is a very scary thing. We've been lucky to not have any issues in the immediate family, but it is not something I'm looking forward to.

In all seriousness, there appears to be a great deal of promising research lately that Alzheimers can be staved off with diet and mental gymnastics. Even something as simple as the Brain Age on the Nintendo DS has shown to have positive prevention affects. So with so much in your family, I recommend you do the research and apply as appropriate.

Wishing you the best of health and luck,

Austin

Posted by: metawizard at December 17, 2009 4:42 PM

My Father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a month before my Mother died. I was his primary caregiver and kept him home with me. It was the hardest & best time of my life. I cherish the time we spent together. Some of it lucid, most of it not.
It's an incidious disease and I think it's harder on the family than the victim - once it takes over and they are no longer able to realize what's happening. I fear getting it, absolutely.

Posted by: LaineyDid at December 17, 2009 5:01 PM

So sorry for your loss! As for the getting old part, I'm enjoying my life now, both parents died young, mom was 56, dad was 61, my mil has alzheimers, she is in a nursing home, when my dad was sick , long story i won't bore you with, my mil was being admitted to the home. He said look at her great body, no memory, me, great memory, no body. Was and is very difficult, her's hit her fast, she no longer recognizes us and can't talk, just mumbles....I told hubby if i ever get like that, I am a diabetic, just give me a needle and let me go to sleep. One does not know what goes on in their minds, but I do know what we go through and it isn't pretty...so hard on the family....So Enjoy Today, Lord knows what tomorrow will bring!!

Posted by: Roberta at December 17, 2009 5:53 PM

My grandma has been slipping into dementia for the past few years. It's really bad now. She doesn't know who I am. It's hard to think about the witty, vibrant, intelligent woman she once was. I can't imagine the pain my dad (her son) is going through, watching this happen to her.

It's scary. I understand.

Posted by: Rebecca at December 17, 2009 7:53 PM

(Much wine on board -- I apologize.)

My FiL has Parkinson's. That scares me. It scares me to see him losing not only his motor functions but his cognitive ones as well. Any sort of motor disease scares me. It's as if dropping dead suddenly is a better way to go.

It scares me to see that I, as a middle aged woman, I am losing relevance. As I fight to find my place still... I guess I just wish I had it all a bit more... as if I'm not going to get there... you know?

Posted by: Nat at December 17, 2009 10:02 PM

I don't fear aging because I will NOT be like my father who has always refused to ask for help or say how he's REALLY physically feeling.
I will get annual checkups and listen to my doctor and my body and do what I need to do so I do not fall into a state of disrepair.
If I go quickly, I go quickly. If I go slowly I will go having done all I could do to continue to be of sound mind and body.
Do I sound bitter? I am. My father who's 85 never went to the doctor, didn't listen to his body and now suffers for it.

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