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[personal profile] mamagotcha
So you remember Eeyore, the depressed donkey that was always gloomy and morose in the Winnie the Pooh books? I've been ruminating upon him lately, because I bet the poor old bastard had arthritis.

I know someone who had bariatric surgery specifically because they did not want to end up like a relative of theirs, who had become fatter and sicker and simultaneously very grumpy and unpleasant to be around as they got older. My own mother had a lot of pain and discomfort towards the end of her life, which contributed greatly to her irritability and unhappiness and isolation.

It's a big fear of mine... that as I age, I will get fatter and creakier and sicker and as a result of all this, I will also become lonelier and meaner.

There's a woman who I've been working with lately who has brought up these fears sharply. She's about the age my mom was when she died (mid-70s), and she's only a little more mobile... walks very slowly with a cane. She's a marvelous calligrapher and artist, and very generous with her knowledge and supplies. I know she's lonely and doesn't get out much. For a while, I was going over to her house weekly for "lessons," but really I was trying to clean her house (which would not be at all out of place in an episode of Hoarders). I took at least a quarter ton of garbage out of her place (I am NOT exaggerating), and that was just the obvious trash... she won't let me touch the huge piles of books, dvds, clothes, cooking items, etc. that fill her home. After a few months, I became overwhelmed and angry at her middle-aged son who lives with her (he pays no rent, has no job, talked her into footing a 10-grand student loan for a degree he didn't finish, and is a total slob), and had to give up trying to beat back the tide of detritus that washed up every time I walked in.

So now I drive her to our monthly scribal meet-ups. The moment I see her, she lets loose with a litany of aches and pains, rails against all the perceived slights she's received from her employers/doctors/family members/utilities, and complains bitterly about her horrible financial situation. When I can get her to talk about calligraphy and illumination, she clearly lights up and her passion shines through. But it's a losing battle... no matter what I say, it reminds her of another company trying to rip her off, or lawsuit that she wants to file, or rude thing her in-laws did to her. She is also extremely fat-phobic, though she has never directed her ire against obesity directly at me... but she blames her weight for all her pain, and when I tried to explain the idea that maybe it was the other way around (her body became inflamed and gained weight as a protective measure against her health issues), she flat out disbelieved me.

Part of me wants to try to keep helping her, and another is screaming "Run away!" It feels like my efforts to help are totally useless against the chaos, and my attempts at keeping a conversation cheerful are fruitless.

A long time ago, a friend told me that the things that irritate us the most in other people are the things that irritate us the most about ourselves. I definitely see that I am flat-out terrified of becoming this woman... widowed, in pain, terribly lonely, living in horrific filth, being taken advantage of, broke, immobile, hating my body and myself. And it makes me want to not give up on her, that there's got to be some hope of overcoming this situation, because I need to know that I will be able to overcome it when it's my turn (and the way my body has been behaving lately, it feels like I'm going to bump up against it sooner than later). There's also more than a little guilt when I avoid her, because my own mother pushed me away for her last few years and after she died, I was the one who cleared out her rooms and barn filled with junk and garbage... and plenty of signs about how desperately lonely and unhappy she was.

I know this story is playing out all over, starring America's elderly. Our communities are broken, and the nuclear family model paired with our idolization of "independence" have set the stage for a generation of really messed-up old folks. There's one who is a member of my garden who drives me (and other gardeners) bananas, and friends my age have been struggling with their aging/dying hoarder parents who are in similar situations.

So, my middle-aged friends, my croning sisters and greying brothers... how are you dealing with this? How can we prepare for aging gracefully? How about when we are in a lot of pain? How can we prevent sinking into a morass of possessions that swallow us whole? I know my kids are all headed different directions and not interested in living near me (and I wouldn't want them to curtail their explorations just to keep me company). And I AM looking forward to having an empty nest someday, a studio to create in again, my own kitchen fiefdom to rule. Cohousing isn't an option in most places... should we start our Rocinante somewhere?

I have no answers, just oodles of questions, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.
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