163 Years Old

Well, they’re here. The three kings of Orient have reached the stable. The shepherds have finally found their way in from the fields, and the little drummer boy is doing his thing for the baby Jesus. Tonight is the real party. This is the day of gift-giving, the final day of Christmas. Tonight, everyone gets it. Tonight, we have an Epiphany.

And it’s also my mom and dad’s birthday. Though seven years apart, they both were born on January 6th. Imagine that! Dad was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1928 (to a 45 year old mother who had been told she would never conceive a child) and mom was born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1935. She would grow up in a household divided (uncharacteristically of the times) by divorce – seeing her father move out at just about the same age as Elihu did.

My dad is going through a process of dementia these days. For the most part he is still very recognizable as himself; he is present, there is a twinkle in his eye and he knows what’s going on around him. What he’s not always clear on, however, is when he is. He often slips back into his years as a boy in Passiac, and will reference his old house, his old neighborhood, tell us that mother is coming by soon… This all somehow blends in very naturally and seamlessly with his present, and when you tell him that it’s 2013, and we’re now in upstate New York, he agrees, he gets it… he adjusts. Nevertheless, he does seem to slip a little further into the great sea of his past just a bit more with each passing month… Not always noticeable to me, but old friends who come to visit will often be a little taken aback. Good thing that it doesn’t happen all at once, I guess. Kinda like being pregnant. Got some time to prepare, get used to the new way of being…

My mother has not enjoyed being referred to as my ‘aging parent’ in my ‘about’ page on this blog. Many times, in what I still cannot quite ascertain as either a passive-aggressive or merely humorous remark, she has described herself as my ‘aging parent’ when speaking about herself in a conversation while I was present (I recently re-wrote the page. I may offer her that tonite as a gift!) Well, I cannot believe any more than she can that she is 78 today. I am not good with change. I can’t seem to fully grasp it. In my mind she is a perennial forty-something (I am a perennial thirty-something, go figure) and dad is just a bit older than that…  When I was growing up, I can’t ever remember being too terribly aware of just how old my folks were… that is, until they became old’. !

In a few minutes I’ll go over to their house for supper. Seems like it really should be me making dinner, or at least taking them out. But in reality, feeding people is my mother’s creative expression in the world, and she just doesn’t delegate that role. Besides, just getting dad in and out of a car or a restaurant – much less in snowy weather – is not a simple task these days. Dad himself, while summoning the focus to find his next step forward across the floor, will often remark that as a boy he used to look at old men like him and think that he’d never be one himself. Don’t we all. Dad didn’t really begin aging so dramatically until he stopped driving, about two years ago now. I understand. He doesn’t go out, except to doctor’s appointments. His world has contracted, and these days he really hasn’t much to live for. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it really feels it. He doesn’t even play music anymore. Getting through a simple Scarlatti sonata isn’t possible for him now. This Christmas was his first visit to our house when he didn’t even venture to the piano. I try not to notice, but it makes me sad. Dad always played the piano while mom got dinner ready, and the house lacks a certain livelihood without it. Tonite I’ll take up his chair for a bit, just to keep the place a bit more spirited for their birthday.

It seems like a good year. Their age matches their street address, and I myself was born in ’63. So I like the look of the number. Mom heard somewhere that good things happen in odd years, so maybe 2013 will be a good one. I hope. We Conants have humor on our side, if nothing else. And it seems to me, that humor might make it a little easier to be an ‘aging parent’ (sorry, mom). So here I go, off into the wintry night to mark a 163rd birthday. That is certainly something to celebrate!

4 thoughts on “163 Years Old

  1. I have heard that exercise can slow down or even reverse some kinds of dementia. Maybe an exercise bike or something relatively fail-proof like that might help? Maybe not. We all end up losing everything in the end. Being a Taoist, I’m always saying “Why wait until the very end? Start losing now.” ;~) GB

    1. Would that my father could even walk the length of the house without great effort… I think the couch is as far as he’s ever getting for now… when the snow leaves I’ll take up a campaign to get him outside again…

  2. Yes, it really is a disconcerting thing to see our parents getting older. We see their mortality, and it is our own mortality, just a generation’s step away from our own door. We so want them to stay as they were forever, even as we ourselves get older, and it’s really hard. Try to rejoice in that you have had a pretty good relationship with your parents, and enjoy the times that you still have with them. May you all have a good new year with each other.

    I had the unhappy situation of having to go visit my grandmother, partly for the purpose of trying to break the news to her that her son was dying of cancer. Her son was my dad, and I couldn’t really bring myself to telling her that, being in a bit of denial myself, so we just had a bittersweet visit. My wife and me and our daughter, who was just over a year old, all together in a house full of memories and old photos. We all sat down a few times to look at old pictures. One of the most poignant things was my grandmother showing me a photo of my dad at the age of only 2 or 3, sitting in a little wooden chair that I had in my room while growing up (and it is in my son’s room now). There was this cute little boy in the photo, who was now my dying father, who just had his 59th birthday, and would not live to see another. I wasn’t able to tell her, but from the bits of medical information which I gave her, my grandmother could tell what was going on. She had already outlived 2 brothers and 2 sisters (most of whom had died of cancer), so she seemed to sense the approaching end. She came to visit my parents that last Christmas, and be with Dad a month and a half befroe he went.

    And here I was, about to turn 32, and to have my last Christmas with Dad, as our daughter was just starting to walk around and say her first words. It was a memorable overlapping of one life ending while another life was just getting started. Life goes on, and we are all right. Grandma lived on for another nine years, reaching 97 years of age. Well, that’s enough of that for now!

    Hopefully, this hasn’t sounded too grim. This is mostly a reaction to what you wrote, but maybe my tone is partly because I just reached 50 myself- I’m not a youngster in my 40s like you! But, seriously, your posts have been wonderfully thought provoking and reflective, and I hope that you stay well and live well, too. Thank God, I’m in good shape. Today, I was outside, cutting some tree branches on my free day. “I’m a lumberjack, and I’m OK. I sleep all night, and I work all day…”

    1. Oh Eric, you conveyed it all so well.. one can only sigh. There is such a poignancy to this end-of-life stuff. I myself haven’t had terribly direct conversations with my folks about it – there’s is a generation that doesn’t deal with it well.

      I had an experience w/a dear family friend just a bit like yours; as Ruthie lay in her death bed (at home) my son Elihu, as a 2 year old, ran around, visiting all the parts of her house my brother and I had played in when we were small like him. We saw photos of all of us in that same space, so many years ago… Seeing all three generations together during that time was bittersweet.

      Nice to hear you’re robust enough to do a bit of wood-cutting. Not sure my ‘young’ 40 something back could take it. But I suppose one can rouse the energy level a bit with a verse or two of that classic number…

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