It’s retirement 2.0 for me! The change from 1.0 is not because I’ve relocated to a Caribbean Island with—or without—a lover. Nor is it because I’ve become a babysitting grandmother, correcting mistakes that I made with my daughters. Nor is it back to working full-time because of boredom or overly optimistic financial planning. No. It’s 2.0 because my mother has had some health issues lately and now depends on me for more than my charming presence in her home.
The tentative plans that I started contemplating when I last visited my daughters, where I would stay for a few months near each of them out on the West Coast, have dissipated. Gone, now that my mother needs me to help her out more—physically (if she’ll take my arm) and mentally (if she’ll listen to me through the cycle of woe and anxiety that has become her internal voice track). Now I get to take her to her doctors’ appointments, which have become more than annual—and to remember for her when they are, and to not get chocolate cake (wink wink—GET chocolate cake) when I go to the grocery store for her.
She went from being a supremely capable older woman to an unsure elderly woman in a single illness. It is the age, I understand from friends, on the cusp of 90, when that happens. Hopefully, the treatment(s?) will heal her physically, but it still seems that this was a before-after moment. She has been touched by the idea of her mortality, something that she has kept hidden in the back of her mind, even as the wrinkles took over. From what I’ve been told from those who’ve gone through this before me, the before-after switch into being elderly—feeling frail and forlornly fearful of mortality—is often because of a fall. With her it was a fall and another fall, a passing out, a few days in the hospital, visits to new specialists, and tests. No broken bones, but a fractured spirit. And even as self-focused as I can be, I know that this is not the time to be two flights away for an extended period of time.
It’s funny, she still thinks that I don’t have to make any changes to accommodate her. After all, I’m still doing my occasional dogsitting nearby, now that she's recovered enough to not need me there to make sure she makes it to the bathroom. Her sense of independence, or is it an inability to ask for and accept help, perhaps keeps her strong and fighting. But, looking from the outside and also thinking about myself and this inherited family trait, it also seems to mean losing out on a way to connect to loved ones and people who care.
Independence does not mean that you eschew help just for the sake of showing that you can do it. At a certain point, this seems more a sign of stubbornness than logic. No, it means that you’re making your own decisions while also appreciating that there are ways for others to make your life easier—to enhance your life. If we offer a hand, why can’t we accept one as well?
It's not as if you’re dumping the burden of you onto someone else. It’s not even sharing it, since it’s still your reality. Rather, it’s being aware that there are people who care and who you can trust to not diminish you, but to encourage you to be fully you, within whatever limitations time and gravity have done to your body.
It seems to me that this is a lesson all of us could use, whatever stage we’re in of the aging process.