Savouring every last drop…

I’ve spent the past couple of weekends sitting on a commode chair – the lid closed – visiting my father who is in University Hospital in London Ontario. Dad is 94 years old. His body is wearing out. He is been very lucky to be extremely active and independent up until the last few weeks. At the end of July he went with me and my daughter and granddaughter – four generations – to see Crazy For You at the Stratford Festival and three weekends ago, he spend a couple of days at my brothers cottage in Kincardine. He just reluctantly gave up his internet account last month, disappointed that he would have to miss out on Facebook messages. We have told him we would read them to him when we visit.

But his old body seems to be edging toward its expiry date.

For the shifts of the new caregivers that have never known him but now look after him, he is a frail, blind, teetery, somewhat muddled old man. I brought an old photograph to his room and put it over his bed so they could remember that he, indeed, was once young like them.

L and S 2  sepiaThe picture is one of my favourites. It was taken by a London Free Press photographer in late December 1945. It shows my dad returning to Canada after being in Europe during World War II and being greeted by my mom at the train station. They had not seen each other for 2 1/2 years. By mid 1946, they were married and remained together until my mom passed away over 60 years later.

The old man in the bed seems to be a different person. But I know that underneath his frail, deteriorating body, the essence of that  young soldier still exists. 

stew 1a 5x7

It is difficult to watch someone who has been so independent and “in control” of his life become totally dependent. A few weeks ago, dad said to me “it’s not being dead that bothers me, it’s the dying part”. In addition to being sad that dad is suffering one indignity and loss after another in an accelerating  cascade, I  also reflect that living to a “ripe old age” is a two-edged sword.

Dad was initially admitted to the cardiac ward of the hospital and, as such, receives a “cardiac” diet. He keeps asking me where dessert is. “Is there any cake to go with that?” he asks as I spoon in the canned fruit cocktail. So I smuggle in donuts from the Tim Hortons shop in the lobby.

Whether it is a pre dinner gin and tonic or life itself, Dad is working on savouring it to the last drop.

Whether it is a pre dinner gin and tonic or life itself, Dad is working on savouring it to the last drop.

Last Friday he insisted that in a cupboard somewhere in the room there was a bottle of Beefeater gin that he had purchased last week.  He really wanted a gin and tonic before dinner.  On Saturday I went to the liquor store, bought a  little bottle of gin and a couple of tins of tonic, smuggled two  glasses from the hotel that I’m staying at into his room, got the nurse to bring us a bit of ice and we had a gin and tonic before dinner.  He sat back and enjoyed it and ate a good supper – complete with ice cream and a cookie.  

And why not? He’s earned it. 

Time marches on…and so will I.

Today I celebrate my 65th birthday. Initially I put “turn” 65 but realized that this not only sounds like a child talking (“I’m five, turning six in August.”) but also the “turning” word signfies a change. Leaves “turn” brown and fall off the trees in the autumn. The weather “turns” colder. To every thing, there is a season.

I am really no different than I was yesterday. I haven’t “turned” at all.

This is the summer that I “turned” six. With my little brother, Bob.

For some reason there are certain birthdays that carry significance more than others. I remember “turning” 16 and being able to get my beginners driver’s license. It was a big deal. I felt like I had grown up. Little did I know. But it was a birthday to be anticipated with some excitement as it carried with it promises of increased rewards. Growth. Expansion. Benefits.

In a similar way, I recall being 21 and going to a bar and being able to legally order an alcoholic drink, actually hoping that someone would check my I.D.

I had no trouble with 40, 50 or even 60. I felt that these markers were middle-age and also had some benefits. Maturity, some financial security, established friendships and professional life and a certain degree of autonomy that only comes as you age.

There are some benefits, to being 65, I guess, but they seem to be overshadowed by the hovering grim reaper. I will save $1 when I go to the Screening Room for a movie. I will legally qualify for seniors discounts at several places. When I go to a Denny’s I can officially order the seniors meal – smaller, less salt, less fat, less everything. I hope they don’t offer me crayons. I rarely go to Denny’s so this won’t help me much.

I got to apply for the Old Age Security benefits – yes, Old Age. They will all be all clawed back so it makes me wonder if this is some sort of pretend advantage to ageing. I told someone this week that it was a bit like a dream. I am not “old”. When you apply for the Old Age Security the envelope you send the application in has “Old Age” printed on the front in big letters. A “rub-it-in” I thought. Or maybe they are trying to get people not to apply.

I got a couple of birthday cards this week – and some had the traditional “too many candles to blow out” message. That is just fine with me. I do have a sense of humour and can take some gentle ribbing about my advancing age. But I also got a card from the university saying that because I had reached 65 my dental insurance coverage would be cancelled at the end of this month. Happy Birthday. Gum your way into senility. Or maybe the plan was set up expecting most people over 65 to have long since lost their teeth. Whatever. It was a bit of a punishment for reaching this age.

Having said all this, I also recognize that I am very fortunate. I have good health, am able to play squash with people 20 years younger than I am, still can remember lines and do Shakespeare (or as in the Coarse Acting play I was just in, pseudo-Shakespeare). I have the flexibility to continue to work, but at my own pace, travel to visit friends when I want and enjoy visits (including a birthday dinner tonight) with my family which extends from my 92 year old Dad (what must that be like?) to my youngest of 5 grandchildren checking in at 1.

I will get over this psychological hump – probably by tomorrow – and settle in to my new age, recognizing that it is only a number and that I am no different than I was last week. A little older, a very little bit wiser and able to unabashedly get senior rates at Shopper’s Drug Mart on Thursdays!

Spring 2012 – Tofino B.C.