Privileges of Aging: Part Two–Head Games

For anyone trying to read this and finding only the quote from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘IF’, I had the whole thing ready to go and then due to a computer glitch lost it so what you see below is my attempt to reconstruct what I had written, which is so apropo for an article called “Head Games”…I feel like my head is being kicked about like a soccer ball.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you. . .” From ‘If” by Rudyard Kipling

Between the mind and the body we have no real control over which one will decline first.  The best we can do is to make sure we are spiritually sound, do good planning, live healthy, challenge our bodies and minds and then watch to see how it all plays out. In retirement I decided to do those things I had put off, write more, read more, learn to paint, go places and stop being afraid of being myself.  I am trying as is Terry to keep our minds current and alert.  Currently I am reading ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, by Anthony Doerr, which is the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Fiction winner.  I am having no problem following the plot.  Terry is also an avid reader.


When we set out to “set up” the elaborate media system in our ‘new to us’ Chrysler van, Terry got all the provided equipment out, head phones, remote…he put batteries in while I downloaded the manual onto my tablet.  We set out for the garage to program our media system to meet our needs, which included pairing our phones with the system, setting theDVD up to play in the back while letting us listen to music or a book in the cab area.  That way my brother or the grandkids could watch a DVD or play a video game as we listened to music or a book up front.  I swear the manual is in English, although the use of acronyms was liberal, there were no words in and of themselves that I did not recognise.  The writers did, however, put the pictures of the devices on separate pages from the text which required some finger swiping back and forth on my pad.

All I can say is it is a good thing Terry and I have long ago worked out those spousal conflicts that threatened our marriage in the past…like painting a wall or hanging wallpaper…or in this case setting up a ‘media system’ in a van.  After a frustrating half hour with little progress–Terry did get our phones paired with the system–Terry opened the remote, took out one of the batteries and replaced it with one from a headphone and VOILA! It worked.  It not only worked it took a nano second to get it set up.  Well, a little longer, but hey, we didn’t even need the manual.  Talk about mind games, that Chrysler 2014 Town and Country Manual had my mind in a strangle hold.  ALWAYS CHECK THE POWER SOURCE!!!

Terry and I watched our mothers die in two decidedly different ways.  My mom’s body gave up before her mind and Terry’s mom’s mind declined taking her body with it.

They both had been active women, but experientially Terry’s mom was a world traveler, having lived abroad for more than five years in her 50’s, she and Terry’s dad were active with a RV club after retirement and then snow birds in Florida for several years.  Still what started as getting lost and confused even in familiar situations turned into agitation, fear, anger as the sysnapses in her brain became more and more roadblocked by plaque. In her final stages she simply forgot how to eat and swallow.

My mom’s mind stayed alert even as her body wore out and her internal organs including her eyesight were ravished by Type II Diabetes until sepsis set in from a urinary track infection (UTI) and her body could no longer fight.  Even in her last days though she knew her visitors, was delighted to have them.  She was a true extrovert, company energized her even as she was dying.  Her body gave up while her mind was still trying to hold on.

Terry’s Dad took care of Dorothy, his mom in the home where she died.  There home became a prison for both of them he, because he would not leave her alone and she because she became increasingly fearful of going out.  During that time just before and during the year following her death, I wrote a novel called, BRAKING POINTS.  In some ways I wrote it because of the relationship I witnessed between Maurice and Dorothy Kisler.

In the novel, a couple Max and Lilly have reached their late eighties.  While Max has the typical issues of strength, joint and recovery from a broken hip to deal with, Lilly has dementia.  Max longs to reconnect with this woman he has loved for more than 65 years if even for an instant, when Lilly produces a photo she accidentally found in a box of their family from a long ago vacation to a beach in North Carolina.  With little forethought he decides to take her back to that beach.  It is not a trip without interference from family, unexpected stops, even more unexpected traveling companions, but it is even more than Max could have hoped for.  A friend of mine dubbed Max, an octogenarian Ferris Bueller.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter Twelve:

“When Elaine laid the check on the table, she smiled broadly at Lily.

“Now, you come on back for supper sometime and I’ll see you get that plate of Liver and Onions you wanted.”

“What?” Her eyes searched Elaine’s face, “Have we met?”

Elaine backed off a bit, no longer making eye contact with Lily. Obviously embarrassed she addressed the others at the table.

“I am so sorry. I didn’t realize she was…” Elaine tapped her forehead, “You can take care of this at the register. You all have a good Sunday. Sorry.”

Max hated the gestures people used to avoid the words they wouldn’t say. Funny about people, they presume the gesture to be kinder or less offensive than the word. Max wondered what word Elaine meant with her tap on her forehead, the choices were endless, crazy, empty headed, brain dead, dim witted, senile—so many words imbedded in that one small tap. Max sucked air into his lungs letting it out slowly.

“Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”

By the time he reached, ‘forever and forever, Amen,’ his irritation subsided. A few more minutes and they’d be traveling east down I -40 heading toward Knoxville and beyond.”

None of us really has the kind of control over our minds beyond choosing our attitudes and thinking before we speak, but like taking a walk helps the body stay in motion, using the brain helps keep those synapses firing.  One of the fastest routes to mental decline is isolation so however we do it we need to get ourselves out there among the living at least some of the time.  If hearing is a problem, the time is now to go see an audiologist and get some help.

Being an introvert, I recharge my batteries doing things like this blog by myself, but I love being around people, too…just not constantly. Extroverts like my mom, like my husband NEED to be around people, it gives them energy.  Aging comes with declining energy so find how you recharge best and do some of it daily.

Retirement isn’t the time to sit down and do nothing  ALL THE TIME.  It is time to explore, learn, interact and discover just what God has planned for me and you each day.  It is our final episode where we let go of fear and fly.  Remember the old Commercial for the Education Fund for African American Students, “A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE!”

That is true of the aging mind as well, so go out there or stay in here and use those brain cells. Let’s get cracking!  AND NO, I DO NOT MEAN SKULL KNOCKING…I may only have a few brain cells left but I need everyone of them.

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