Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Gerontology practicum

If there is one thing I have learned in the last six years of Mom living in our granny flat, it is that getting older is not easy. At all. It's not just the big things like moving away from your home and having heart disease. It's the hair loss that makes you self-conscious and the loss of hearing that makes you feel like an outsider in every conversation. It's having your car keys taken away and only being able to leave home when your daughter or Dial-a-Ride can take you. It's losing friends to death and dementia and losing patience with your limitations.

It is also easy for her to see any failing, any moment of weakness, as a reflection of her age. She refers to things as "senior moments", but they can't be senior related since they happen to me all the time, and I am decidedly middle-aged.

Since I am moving fast AND she hates to be watched, I rarely get a chance to watch Mom. Yesterday, however, I was waiting with my groceries while she checked out. I noticed her getting flustered, I watched the line getting longer behind her and the time ticking on and on. It turned out that she had not used her grocery card that calculates the discounted prices on her items, so they had to go back and re-figure the total. It's happened to me before, and the clerks always apologize because they see it as their responsibility to remind everyone. Taking three extra minutes saved Mom $24.79, which for any of us is significant, but for a woman on a fixed income it's huge.

Mom was keenly aware of the inconvenience to those behind her in line. She was especially aware of the man who was rudely breathing down her neck and pushing his cart closer and closer and closer to her as she got more and more flustered. This was not a "senior moment." She forgot and the clerk forget -- not.a.big.deal. When I looked carefully at Mom, though, I saw a glimpse of what could only be fear in her eyes. She dreads the possibility of dementia, and I could see her wondering, "Is this just the beginning?" There have been other times in the last six months when I have wondered and worried about Mom. But not yesterday. Yesterday she was HUMAN.

When she came out to the car, she quietly said, "I wanted to apologize to the man behind me, but he seemed so angry I didn't want to risk it." How sad is that?

I know the Christmas season is not easy for many people. People feel lonely and hurried and broke and powerless. Stress translates into bad manners on the roads, in line at the grocery, and in even to crankiness with people closer to us. I am trying to have compassion on those who seem hurried and worried. When they are rude to my mom, though, it takes an extra dose of grace.

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