May 29, 2012
My dad lives in an assisted living facility in Johns Creek, a lovely place with friendly staff, well-groomed grounds and top-notch care. He’s very fortunate to be able to live there, as by the time most people reach 92, they desperately need the watchful care of others. In my father’s case, he lived alone in a big house in Duluth until he was 88. Then we children began seeing things – small at first, then more serious – that made us realize he was no longer safe alone in his home. That’s how he ended up where he is now.
It was very hard for a man in his late 80s to start losing his independence a piece at a time. First, his house, then his boat, and ultimately his precious car. First he walked alone just fine, then he needed a walker, and now often he prefers using a wheelchair. These were all inevitable steps along the path to “extreme aging” as I call it, or living well into years that one never expected one would.
He’s very comfortable now, he eats well and he’s safely under the watchful eyes of trained professionals who treat him very well. The facility in which he lives consistently offers plenty of opportunities to keep the residents’ minds sharp, and sometimes my dad will participate. During baseball season, however, he prefers to cheer on, or jeer at, the Atlanta Braves.
My husband and I went to see Dad on Memorial Day. We took him one of his favorite treats (buttermilk and cornbread), hung out with him for a bit and watched baseball, then took him down the hall to check out the concert advertised for 3 p.m. Several other residents were there, singing along and tapping their toes to the beats of songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s. Everyone was smiling, save for one woman who was asleep and my dad, who was scowling. He kept muttering (translation: shouting) that the music was too loud and that the guy wasn’t that great. He’d rather watch baseball.
After a couple of attempts to get my dad to relax and enjoy the music, maybe guess some of the names of the songs like “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Pennies from Heaven,” we gave in and took him back to his apartment, where he promptly flipped the channel to the Braves game and seemed very content, even though they were losing by six runs.
I remember when I was a kid, my dad would stack two TVs on top of one another and watch two different ball games. He’d also have a radio in one ear while he listened to a third. I always thought he must have been the smartest man in the world to be able to decipher all that mess. In hindsight, he was probably just tuning everyone else out but still; I thought it was very cool.
My father will be 93 in August, God willing. I know many times over the years we’d joke about how long he was going to live, since his mother lived well into her 90s. I used to secretly pray that I’d live to be at least 100, I suppose out of a terrible fear of actually dying. Now I’m not so sure though. I watch my dad and yes, he’s safe and well fed and healthier than he’s been in a while, but now and then that 20-something guy – the one so free of care and aches and pains, looks back out at me through my Dad’s eyes. He’s still in there and I can tell, he’s wondering what happened and when he’s busting out of there.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with my dad, you’d get a glimpse of this same guy every now and then, and boy does he have some stories.
Are your parents or even grandparents still alive? Do your children ever have the opportunity to listen to their stories? They can be fascinating.
Carole Townsend is also a Gwinnett Daily Post staff correspondent and author of the recently-released book, “Southern Fried White Trash.” The book takes a humorous look at families and how we behave when thrown together for weddings, funerals and holidays. She has been quoted on msnbc.com, in the LA Times, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor, been featured on FOX 5 News and CNN, and is often a guest on television and radio shows nationwide. Her next book, “Red Lipstick and Clean Underwear,” is eagerly expected in summer 2012.