I’M FIGHTING OFF the urge to begin with, “The time has come, the walrus said …”
But the time has come: I’m retiring.
And after 999 weeks of us meeting here, I’ll be stepping away and I will be forever grateful to all the good folks at Peninsula Daily News for their patience, encouragement and the amazing opportunity to “meet” so many of you.
How does one say “goodbye” after 999 weeks? I have no idea, so I won’t even try.
I think what I will do, however, is attempt to sum up what are, in my opinion, the most important aspects of this whole aging thing.
And that usually begins with a question that goes something like this: “How smooth is the road ahead likely to be?”
Answer: About as smooth as the road behind — and if you take the time to think about it, I just told you a whole lot more than you think I did.
Folks in my business tend to spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating the question “What do elders want?” — said in the same general tone of voice and inflection as the question “What do Martians eat?”
As though elders were Martians.
As though, at some magic age (60? 65? 79? 98? — whatever …), all those normal people stepped into the elder machine and were duly processed and homogenized into an anomalous species called elders, emerging with unfathomable (albeit, unanimous) habits, preferences, tastes, predilections, abilities, challenges and destinies.
Alas, allow me to be the bearer of thought-provoking tidings: There is no elder machine.
It’s true. When you hit that magic age here’s what will be magically different: nothing.
You will still be the same old you with the same foibles, opinions, tastes, talents and beliefs. You’ll still have the same preferences and the same politics, the same joys and the same sorrows, and the same old body that got you to here, more or less.
Now, close your eyes for 30 seconds and visualize what you want your life to look like in 10, 15 or 40 years — go ahead, we’ll wait …
OK? Here’s the picture that most of us saw: We saw a life that looks more or less as much as possible like our lives look right now — colored by a few hopes, dreams, fears and the tyranny of genetics, certainly — we want life to continue to be life as we have chosen to define it.
We want a continuation.
Not less — we do not want life to be less — and we don’t want to be less.
We want to be … us. To continue.
Here’s the only thing that really changes in that elder machine: the sudden realization that almost none of us will achieve immortality. Oops.
So, in my opinion and in my world, the game becomes, “How can we keep life looking as much as possible the way it looks right now?”
I’ll offer these points:
• Think health and health care, but think about it in terms of what you can do, not in terms of this or that diagnosis. We want to be able to get up, get going and have our days (and our nights) on our own terms, with as little help (think, interference) as possible.
• Stop doing stupid stuff! We all know what we do that we shouldn’t do, so stop doing it (… or do less of it).
• Move! Use-it-or-lose-it applies! So unless you’re done with it, use it!
• Find a health care professional that you trust and tell the truth! Listen and talk! Then, do what you need to do, as though it were your responsibility to be responsible for yourself. Because it is.
• And figure out your health insurance or find someone who has and make friends.
• Money! This is America; money counts. Like it or not that’s how it is, so figure it out and do the best you can. Plan! Get out of debt! Figure out Social Security! It is absolutely true that money can’t buy happiness, but it does buy heat, food, medicine and underwear. So think about it.
• I’m often asked some derivation of the question, “What’s the worst thing that is likely to happen to me as I get older?” People expect to hear something like falls, Alzheimer’s or a stroke. And, certainly, those things can happen (I could go on about falls until morning but, don’t panic, I won’t), but here’s what’s more likely to get us:
Not knowing that there’s help out there, or being too proud to ask for it.
Being afraid that if they knew how much help I really needed, they would put me in a nursing home, so I isolate and go downhill pretty soon … right: The self-fulfilling prophecy fulfills.
A little help on the front end can change everything.
I could bury you alive in programs, services and acronyms.
I could put you into a coma with strategies, resources, advance directives and DPOAs, and I could drive you — screaming — from the room with health insurance nuance, but I can’t give you the one thing that will do you the most good because we all have to find it for ourselves: a sense of purpose. A mission. A reason to be.
The belief that there is a reason to continue.
That there are still opportunities to contribute — to be part of the solution — to make things better.
To help. And that it truly is not over until it is.
That every day is the next opportunity to begin again. To get it right. To do better.
I want you to hear that aging is not an affliction, it’s an achievement!
Be careful. Strive to be happy.
Love is all there is.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].