Friday, November 7, 2014

Unintended Cruelty

I hate the way she sits.....

Living here on old people's island is certainly an eye-opener.  And how people age and live with old age is not always the most pleasant thing to watch.   It probably is one reason many children move away from home when they graduate from college - and rarely return.

Men do not live as long as women - this is a statistical fact that has been pretty constant for generations.  Yes, part of it is due to men being in more dangerous occupations, at least in the past.   But in general, they seem to kick off sooner than their wives.

Compounding this, traditionally, men marry women 2-5 years younger than themselves.   So statistically, a husband is more likely to predecease his wife.  As a result, the population of old people's island (or any retirement community) is biased toward women.   It is almost a joke - but it is true - that when a man's wife dies first (which rarely happens), opportunistic widows will hit on him at her funeral.   And they will show up at the house with a casserole.   Single men are a hot commodity among oldsters - particularly a single man who can drive.   Within a year, the widower is remarried, which strikes some folks as odd.

Odd, because the way these older women treat their men is rather shocking.   Perhaps one reason men don't live as long, is that they are nagged into an early grave.

Let me explain what I mean.

Fred and Suzie have been married for years.   They are both getting older - in their 70's or 80's and starting to lose their faculties.   They can't get around as much as they used to.   Even getting up out of a chair is harder to do.   And Fred has trouble driving at night - or driving, period.

And like most older men, Fred has a high-frequency hearing loss.   So half of what people say at a cocktail party - particularly if they talk quietly - is missed by Fred.   When Fred asks Suzie to repeat herself, because he couldn't hear her over the background noise, she says instead, "Never mind, it doesn't matter!"   But when you say that to a person with a hearing loss, what you are really saying is, "Never mind, you don't matter."


When you say "Never mind, it doesn't matter!" to a person with a hearing loss, when they ask you to repeat a sentence, what you are really saying is, "Never mind, you don't matter."

You see, it takes just as much time to repeat a sentence for your spouse (the one you are supposed to honor and cherish) than it does to sigh, make a big deal, and say, "Never mind, it doesn't matter!" - and make him feel bad for even asking.   And when you shut down people like that, well, they become isolated and depressed.   They are no longer part of the conversation but just viewed as some doddering old fool who occupies space and time, and whose opinions and participation are not needed or wanted.  Pretty soon, the husband just gives up, and stops interacting with others.  This is not healthy, mentally or physically.

And yes, I see wives do this to their husbands all the time.   For some reason, however, the reverse never seems to occur.

But there is another form of spousal cruelty which is equal opportunity (but again, due to age and mortality differences, seems to be practiced more by wives than husbands).   This is the tendency to disparage the husband's abilities and health, and recite - almost gleefully - the decline of his abilities, strength, mental competence, and the like.  Sometimes this is done behind the husband's back (usually just as he is leaving the room) or often, right in front of him.

So Suzie says to me, "Well, you know Fred is really starting to lose it!  Just yesterday, he couldn't remember where he put the car keys!"

And I say to her, "Well, I lost my car keys yesterday too.  Am I losing it too?  And by the way, Fred is sitting right here and can hear everything you just said!"

And that is the weird thing - the stuff the wife uses as "evidence" of her husband's decline is often things we younger people do all the time - lose things, forget stuff, repeat ourselves, fall down, whatever.   For some reason, when an oldster does it, it is alarming  - at least to their spouse.   

Perhaps part of this is the tendency of older people to look inwardly as they age, and start to look at every change in their behavior (or that of their spouses) or their body, with alarm and concern.  They become obsessed with every ache and pain and convince themselves that "this never happened before!" when in fact, they are pretty much the same as they were ten years ago, it is just now they magnify everything out of proportion.  Health (and spousal health) becomes a hobby - an unhealthy hobby - and it is not surprising that middle-aged women are prime candidates for self-diagnosed "illnesses" like Fibromyalgia.

Pretty soon, old people are no fun to be around.  The topic of conversation always turns toward illnesses, prescriptions, doctors, Medicare, and the like.  And irony, of course, is lost on these oldsters.   They universally decry Obamacare as "socialism" because it will "increase their taxes!"   But of course, they are all on Medicare (which they "paid into") and their income taxes at their age are essentially zero.  But let's have none of that Socialism, OK?

But all of that is nothing compared to the spousal cruelty.  Women (and it is usually women) treat their elderly husbands like dirt.   They talk to them like they are pre-schoolers, using simple phrases and words, as if they are retarded or something.  It is embarrassing and awkward, to say the least.  Maybe this is a woman's last chance to play at being a "Mom" and bossing someone around, I don't know.

What I do know is this:  I am getting sick and tired of older women buttonholing me, and talking in hushed tones about their husband's latest symptom of decline.  It isn't right - to be talking behind someone's back, about their health issues - even if they are real (and not imagined or exaggerated, by the spouse).   And it is a form of cruelty to take such apparent joy in the decline of a loved one.   

Stop making a hobby out of illness - particularly that of a spouse.  It isn't healthy and it doesn't accomplish anything.

Yes, we all get old and die.  This is news to you?  And the end comes sooner than we expect - and often unexpectedly.   All the more reason to enjoy life today, rather than worry about the inevitable or look for signs of decline.

And hey, if things get really bad, you can just drive out into the desert and disapear, right?