Aging has been on my mind a lot these days. Not necessarily my own aging. I’m only 42, but more about that later. I had dinner with an old boyfriend last week. His father has had a valve replaced in his heart which has made him feel better, but he also has what sounds like chronic leukemia which is in remission now, but is sure to come back. He’s only in his late 60’s.
This weekend, I saw some friends that I see only a handful of times a year. I last saw them in December. I worry that one of them is sliding into the evil grip of dementia. He seemed fine in December. He was still writing and shared some of his writing at that time. I believe he is around 70 and he’s had quite the life. I think he’s been a Marine, tried to work on an Alaskan fishing ship but signed up too late in the season and ended up working as a logger for a while. Actually a tree topper, had a bad accident, went back to school and got a Ph.D. and worked as a professor for many years. His wife seems a bit withdrawn. I can only imagine how difficult it is to see your much-loved spouse slip into dementia. I saw my mother go down that slippery slope. I saw my father try to deal with it when he wasn’t trying to shelter us from it, rather than calling on us for support.
We were working on a project yesterday. It’s something that we’ve been doing for more than 20 years. He knew my name as soon as he saw me. But he got mixed up about the order in which we do things. Which matters. I asked another friend who has known him longer than I have and probably sees him more often than I do if he is all right. This friend looked around to see who else might be able to hear and said, “I don’t know. I’m worried.” Later, when we were sitting around having dinner outside at the fire pit where it was far to hot to think about having a fire, he mistook me for his wife. To be fair, I was sitting down, our hair is about the same length, I was wearing a hat and both she and I were wearing sleeveless shirts, though not the same color. He approached me and said, “Hi, Buddy.” But was surprised when I turned to face him and found that it was me instead of her. Then he sat down with me and we talked about some normal things. Wilderness traveling. Canoeing remote places. But his sense of humor isn’t the same and he also engaged in some humming that I haven’t known him to do before. It was reminiscent of stuff my mother would do when she was firmly in the clutches of dementia. Like the other friend said, “I’m worried.” That’s the thing with dementia. In the early stages it comes and goes. Someone seems perfectly lucid and having a conversation that makes sense one moment and the next they don’t make any sense or they ask you the same thing you just told them and they truly have no recollection of the conversation that just took place.
This past weekend, I went out kayaking a couple of times by myself. That meant loading and unloading the kayak from the car each time, both at home and at the landing. It’s only a 36 pound boat, so lifting it is no problem, but it is 14 feet long which makes it unwieldy and it is also kind of fragile so I can’t afford any unfortunate contact with the hard, hard ground. My vehicle is also 3 inches taller than me, not counting the roof racks, so I have to get this thing up over my head. Sure, I can slide it onto the roller rack from the back, but it is still no piece of cake. The first day I went out, I really wondered if I could do this anymore. I was clutzy, but yes in fact, I can. My subsequent outings were better. At this point, at 42, I’m only 5 years younger than my mother was when the van that we hauled the old aluminum canoe around on died which lead to the sale of that same canoe. They never chose to roof rack another car and I’m sure part of that was due to my mother having some difficulty loading and unloading the boat. I was only ten years old, but really angry and thought (probably mistakenly at the time) that I could do it though I was approaching her height at the time. My father never knew this until I was 32 and he was 80 and we started canoeing again, this time with a canoe that I owned. We had a few good summers of canoeing and talking. Sure, if there were other people at the boat landings that we used, they generally offered to help me load or unload the boat, and it was much appreciated, but we’d not have gone out on these trips if we couldn’t handle it. Sure he was a bit wobbly getting out of the boat after paddling for a couple of hours, but at approximately half his age now, I might be a little stiff too. He left all securing of the tie downs to me. No matter, I would have checked them anyway. Even in his 80’s my dad paddled I canoe better than I can. I’m getting better at sitting in the stern and steering the thing, but he could paddle on the same side for hours and make the boat go exactly where he wanted. Left bend or right bend in the river. Branches to dodge? No problem at all. It was over breakfast and canoeing and then lunch that I broke it to Dad that D. was moving in with me and that we had no immediate plans to get married. It was a hard conversation to have. I didn’t think he would like it. I’m not sure he did. Lucky for me, he understood that the world was a much different place than when he was a young man (in the 1940’s for goodness sake). 55 or 60 years later and with the stupid Wisconsin marital property law… I know he was glad the following year when we did decide to get married. I had no idea that the last time we were out canoeing would actually be the last. If I remember correctly, the following year, it was pretty clear and the year after that he was gone.
Back to me and my mother, while I’m 42 and she was 47 the year the canoe went away and that’s only 5 years, I have to think we’re not the same. I can’t imagine her climbing around on the car like a monkey the way I do putting the roof racks on or taking them off and securing or undoing tie-downs. Or loading and unloading boats independently. The canoe, though I can’t handle by myself is 17 feet long and 65 pounds. I’ve seen a tall man do that independently. I’d like to have a lighter canoe by the time I’m 50 if we’re going to continue to canoe. Canoeing is only occasionally preferable to kayaking. With D., I do help to load and unload the canoe. I think he could do what Brian or what Albert , both of whom were around 6 feet tall could do. Both could carry a canoe by himself using the portage yoke and could set it on top of a passenger car, but since I’m there, I take an end of the boat. Some spring, I’ll decide that it is time to sell this canoe and later that year when boats get cheap, I’ll decide it’s time to buy the light and expensive boat if we can get a used one for a good price.
Just for the fun of another prospective on my age, when my mother-in-law was my age, she had two adult sons serving in the U.S. Navy. I can’t imagine that, but then again, most of my friends, o.k., none of my friends were mothers when they were a month shy of 20 years of age. My friends, if they are mothers, became mothers in their late 20’s or some time in their 30’s. My friends have infants, preschoolers, kindergarteners or at the most “tweens”. It’s not really like this is new. Both of my grandmothers (ladies born in 1893 and 1901) had their first child at the age of 27. My mother was 36 when she had me and I was her oldest. My friend who I saw last week said his sister who is my age is hoping to get pregnant, but is having no luck. I can’t help but think that if I had a baby now, I’d be 61 or close to it by the time she graduated from high school. If I end up like my dad, it would be fine. If I end up like my mom, it would be horribly unfair. We have no plans to put this to the test.
I plan to do what I can, both mentally and physically for as long as I can. As my dad said, “Getting old is hell.” I hope to put it off for as long as possible. No matter what, aging is inevitable. I hope it is kind to me.
I know this post rambled a bit. I have a lot on my mind. Both past and present.