Letting Life Do What It Wills

Perhaps, as some people have suggested, I think about getting old too much, but when one is alone, there won’t be anyone to help when the time comes, so it’s important that I think about these things and make plans when I can. It’s not that I am specifically preparing for old age, but anything I have to do the house, I make sure it will accommodate me if I develop problems.

I’m not the only one who, when changes have to be made, make those changes with age in mind. That these people are generally widows or widowers might have something to do with it, perhaps because we know how life can change in an instant. I haven’t broached this subject enough to know the truth of it, but those I know who are still mated don’t think about these things as much as we who are alone.

My preparations started back when I was healing from a devastating arm/elbow injury. The surgeon told me there was nothing I could do to hurt the arm but that others could, so he cautioned about letting people get hold of my hand or arm. And he told me, flat out, “Don’t fall.” To that end, I removed any loose throw rugs, which are some of the most common fall hazards, and I made sure that my shower has hand rails since bathing and showering are dangerous not only to older folks, but to anyone.

It’s not that I’m paranoid; I’m simply aware of fall hazards. Besides, it’s so much easier to remain healthy if one remains upright. Too many older people begin a downward spiral after a fall.

The workers who come (occasionally, anyway) to help fix up my house and yard understand my wariness because they have elderly mothers with mobility issues. In fact, the fellow who came today brought his mother’s wheeled walker to make sure the paths we (I say “we” as if I am doing part of the work, though I am merely the check writer) are putting in are wide enough for walker use. To be honest, I don’t intend ever to have to use a walker, but neither did anyone who now needs one. It’s just that if I am going through all the trouble and expense of making my yard not just attractive but safe, I might as well look to the future and do the job once rather than finding out in decrepit old age that the paths are too narrow to do me any good.

The walkers with a seat are really great; I wish my father had consented to use one. He did walk inside the house, but he refused to walk outside. He said he got too tired. But if he had used a walker, he could have gone for a pleasant walk and then rested before he returned home.

Again, it’s not that I am planning on being decrepit; in fact, I am doing whatever I can to ensure that I’m won’t be, but life has a way of turning out vastly different from what we planned. By doing this work now, I can forget about it and let life do what it wills.

Of course, I reserve the right to whine if my life turns out to be something other than what I might wish for.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Preventing Frailty

When a worker was here last week to fix the cracks in my foundation, we talked about some of the improvements I want to do outside the house, such as the pathways I want to put in, so that I can be safer in my old age. He commented that I spend too much time thinking about getting older, which might be true, but on the other hand, if I don’t work now to provide a safer “fourth age,” who will? (Old age has now been divided into two categories — the third age from 65 to 80, which used to be called the golden years, and the fourth age, which is from 80 on.) Admittedly, I am still years away from that fourth age, but what I do now will give me the best chance of a) living to that age, and b) living strongly once I have arrived.

I do worry about frailty — I see so many older people who are too frail to navigate under their own power, and I don’t want that for me. Well, no one does wants that for themselves, but since I have no younger family members to take care of me, I have to be particularly careful. I’m also willing (more or less) to do what it takes to keep frailty at bay for as long as possible. To that end, I’ve been researching how to keep from getting frail as I get older, and most of it I already know. Keep moving, for one, such as taking walks and stretching. Do resistance exercises to help build up muscle mass. Eat more protein. Avoid dieting since weight loss leads to more muscle loss than fat loss. And oh, yes, kick the sedentary habit.

It’s that last part that has me flummoxed. I do understand that we as a society are too sedentary, and to be honest, some of my most prevalent activities are sedentary ones, primarily reading books and playing around on the computer. But the suggestion is to do no more than three hours per day of such activities.

Huh? We’re talking about people in the third and fourth age here. What are we supposed to do for all the rest of the time? Let’s say we get eight hours of sleep a night, perhaps another hour for grooming tasks. Perhaps an hour or two for fixing meals and doing chores. Maybe, if we’re being generous with our estimates (or maybe if we’re outright lying), we exercise for an hour.

That adds up to twelve hours. And only three should be sedentary? Heck, if we in the third age could be up and around, doing all sorts of on-foot activities for nine hours, we’d be — oh, I don’t know — still working perhaps. Where are we supposed to get the strength for all that activity? Following the rest of the suggestions — exercise, more protein, etc — can only give a newly elderly person so much energy. All those years we are carrying around are heavy, which adds to desire for sedentariness.

Come to think of it, maybe that worker is right. Maybe I’m overthinking all this. Maybe I should just do what I feel like, even it turns out to be way too much sitting.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

A Winning Situation

Lots of activity today! I’d ordered some hydrangea bush/trees from The Arbor Day Foundation (well, actually, I donated a token amount of money, and the hydrangeas came along as a gift), but hadn’t received them, so I thought they forgot me. But the hydrangeas came today, which surprised me. I mean, a couple of days until December is still fall, but not what we generally think of as fall. It also surprised me that the ground was thawed enough to plant. I guess a little sun during the day offsets a lot of cold during the night. I thought I was only supposed to get four of the plants, but they sent me five, so I cheated and put two in the same large hole. It’s a place where I particularly want the bushes, so hopefully, at least one will survive — Arbor Day Foundation trees are notorious for not growing. In fact, all the trees I got from them died, and although the lilac seedlings didn’t die, they didn’t grow, either. Maybe next year!

A couple of workers planned to come early this morning to spread the breeze (crushed rock) for part of my walkway in the yard, but they couldn’t come that early because the breeze was frozen solid. I guess the snow had made its way down the heap, and that’s what froze. I can’t imagine that rock itself freezes, but what do I know. I’m new to this gardening/landscaping thing.

The workers did finally come, and in fact, they are still here.

Wow! That breeze rock sure is red!! It’s supposed to dry to a paler red, but we’ll see. I don’t suppose it matters. It’s all earth tone — the garage, the decorative rock around the garage, and the breeze. In the middle of the red pathway is a long rectangle that will be a raised garden.

It’s really interesting to me that although I am doing these things — the raised garden, the pathways, the ramps — for practicality, it’s all turning out to be so lovely.

People keep asking me why I need pathways in my yard, and the truth is, although I will appreciate having smooth walkways, I don’t really need them yet, but as I get older and unsteadier on my feet, I certainly will need them. I wouldn’t want to risk stepping into a depression in the grass and tripping and falling. So many older people’s lives are irrevocably changed by a simple fall. Also, since so many people not that much older than I am using walkers, I want to be prepared. If it got to that point, I wouldn’t want to be housebound just because I couldn’t get around my yard. And if not me, then my friends — I already know several people using walkers or wheelchairs, and I will be ready if ever they were to visit.

Another practicality — the more rock covering the ground, the less lawn or yard to take care of.

Many people either don’t want to think that that far ahead, or simply don’t think of these things, but since I am the only one who will be taking care of me when I get old, I figure the person I am now needs to prepare for the agedness of the person I will become. If I’m lucky, I’ll never need as much accessibility as I am having put in, but at least it will be there in case.

And anyway, it really is fun watching my mini estate taking shape. What’s also fun is seeing how the people who work on my yard really get into it. Although it’s hard work, it also gives them a creative outlet. And I let them do many of the things they think of. So it’s a winning situation all around.

***

If you haven’t yet read A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my novel of a quarantine that predated this pandemic by more than ten years, you can read the first chapter online here: http://patbertram.com/A_Spark_of_Heavenly_Fire.html

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Pretty White Walls

The insulation and the walls of the garage are in, and now the painting begins! The walls are white (not blue as they appear in the photo), to make sure the garage is nice and bright.

I’m still a way from being able to use the garage. Once the walls and ceiling are painted, the opener will be installed, and then gravel will need to be brought in to fill in the space between the driveway and the alley. I think the contractor wants the ramp/sidewalk from the house to the garage done before some of the rest of the work to make sure I have a safe way to get from one building to the next, but I’m not sure if the sequence matters as long as the sidewalk is done.

From the beginning, the contractor has understood that I’m fixing the place up now to prepare for my old age so I can be self-sufficient as long as possible, and he’s been very good about pointing out things I should be done, even things I wouldn’t have thought about. But he’s used to elder-proofing houses and yards, and I’m not used to being an elder. Though I’m getting there. Things I didn’t think I’d have to worry about for a few more years, such as going down the steps to the basement, are definitely things I need to worry about now. My bum knee, though it is healing and isn’t preventing me from doing things I need to do, doesn’t like stairs. (It’s a good thing we decided to make the garage big enough for storage because my original idea of storing things in the basement has become defunct.)

It’s nice having someone look at the place from a different point of view than mine. From his standpoint, I’m sure I already seem old-lady-ish, so it’s not much of a stretch for him to consider my safety, especially when I stumble because of a depression in the yard. Such unevenness will be taken care of with loads of dirt — they have to bring in dirt anyway to fill in where the old garage used to be, and to fill in around the garage — so it will be easy enough to expand the fill site. Besides, he’s going to be putting in pathways for me. (Made from something called breeze?)

It will be fun to gradually fill in the corners of the yard and the various secret spaces created by the walkways with interesting plants and artifacts, so that if I can’t go far, I can still have a micro adventure in my micro park. Such an undertaking will take years, of course — not just because I can only do so much at a time but because things take a long time to grow.

The contractor also seems to understand that I like the work he does, but that I also like the companionship. Knowing that congenial people are here, working for my welfare adds an additional dimension to the experience of owning a house and adds to the richness of the experience. Their presence has certainly helped to keep me from feeling completely isolated during these Bob times.

And it gives me something to look forward to on the days I know someone will be here.

Luckily, from a companionship standpoint, things are far from finished. Even though the garage is nearing completion, there is a whole list of other things that need to be done, such as the water lines replaced, the foundation maintained, the gutters fixed. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today, I am focusing on the garage and the pretty white wall.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Too Many Deaths

It seems as if I’ve accidentally taken a vacation from the internet. I haven’t posted a blog in over a month (I even forgot to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of this blog), and I’ve made only an occasional visit to Facebook. It wasn’t planned, this vacation. It’s just that life — and death — got in the way of my usual e-activities.

My older brother’s death affected me — and continues to affect me — so much more than I thought it would. (For someone who thinks she is as self aware as I think I am, my own reactions to death always manage to surprise me.) I thought I’d grieved the loss of my brother when I left him on the street in Colorado, but death is different. Irrevocable. And I am very conscious of his being gone.

My brother had given me the stuff in his storage unit a few years ago with the caveat I wouldn’t do anything with it until he was gone. (Did he know how close to death he was? I don’t know. I thought this disposition of his possessions was just his usual doom saying.) So, in addition to dealing with his death, I had to deal with his possessions. Well, my possessions. It was incredibly sad to see his preparations for a life as a musician he never got to live. It was incredibly sad having to dispose of the provisions for that unlived life. (There is no way I could have kept his things. I have enough of my own — and Jeff’s — stuff in storage without having to add my brother’s, too.)

Jeff’s death brought to the fore questions about death and the meaning of my life as well as fears of my growing old alone. My brother’s death didn’t leave me with the mystical quest Jeff’s death did; instead, it made me question the practicalities of my life. Made me realize I need to prepare for my old age. Considering the longevity of my parents, I thought that old age would be a long time coming, but both brothers closest to me in age, one a year younger, one a year older, are now gone. My younger brother didn’t come within thirty years of my mother’s final age. My older brother didn’t come within thirty years of my father’s age.

Although I have reconnected with other siblings, I still have to deal with life on my own. They all have someone significant in their lives, and I have . . . me. I see friends sporadically, but mostly, I spend my time alone. It’s odd that I am now where I feared to be during those first years of grief after Jeff died. I used to be terrified of stagnating, of becoming the crazy cat lady sans cats, so I kept myself busy with forward-looking activities. After the seventh anniversary, that need for busyness evaporated. Luckily, as it turned out. Most of my grief group friends are now paired up, my walking friends have gone on to other activities, and my dance classes have diminished. (I stopped going to a couple of the classes because they had become a performance group rather than actual classes and caused me more frustration than joy. Most of my other classes, classes that I loved, were either cancelled or are hit and miss.) And my dream of an epic hike evaporated when I discovered the reality of my physical abilities. Or lack of abilities.

So here I am. Alone. But not stagnating. (At least, I don’t think I’m stagnating. But if I am, would I know?) I’ve been spending time with my new grief book, preparing for its send off into the world of agents. I’ve been trying to get back into walking shape — my frequent colds this year and the trips I’ve gone on (to Seattle and to my brother’s memorial) have taken their toll on me. And I’ve been trying to figure out where to go from here, not in a mystical way, but a practical way, trying to figure out where I want to be living when death begins swiping at me with its scythe.

Death. So not a friend of mine! (Though I might feel differently when I near my own end.) I don’t mean to sound morbid. There’s just been too many deaths in too short a time.

Although I should return from my accidental vacation and get back into the discipline of keeping up the blog, I truly don’t want to foist my sadness on others. I did enough of that when I was dealing with Jeff’s death, and there’s nothing new to say.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.