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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Reaching the Age at Which, if I were Lakota, I’d be an Elder

Or so I remember reading in an interview with Russell Means in the AARP magazine fifteen or so years ago—or was it an essay by Alice Walker? (Memory jokes begin.) At any rate, I am now eligible for the senior discount at Kroger, and a few weeks ago, a clerk at Foodland gave the discount without even asking me. My spouse was amused.

This is a strange age to be. I can still do most things I want to, in terms of physical capability (including climbing a mountain to reach the Womb Cave of Nenkovo), but recovery time has definitely slowed, and the upper-body strength isn’t what it was in my twenties when my job required lifting 50-pound boxes of books from the floor to a waist-high counter. These days, I drag my course materials to campus in a wheeled backpack (though I still have no problem moving 25-pound bags of cat litter to and from the car—but haven’t had the nerve to buy 50-pound bags of birdseed for fear of embarrassing myself in the parking lot at True Value).

Serious limitations are also much more obvious. Time flies, and life seems shorter all the time. Optimists refer to this stage of life as “the last third,” and most of us in the US will probably live into our eighties, but there are no guarantees. This year brought the death of a treasured colleague who was only sixty, and a former student in her twenties is even now battling late-stage cancer. Yesterday brought a conversation with a nurse at my mother’s assisted-living facility about setting up a hospice consultation: not a surprise for someone in her ninetieth year who has battled depression and heart disease for several decades and dementia since 2006, but still a sobering reality. End-of-life planning falls to those of us in the middle if we have living parents who didn’t plan and whose bodies are shutting down slowly rather than in a single disastrous event. Note to self: update will and final directives while still able to do so.

Musings to be continued. Today may be the birthday that marks my official entrance into elderhood, but at the moment, there are plants to be watered, student e-mails to be answered, and a cool and beautiful morning to be greeted somewhere other than at the computer.