Sunday, December 24, 2023

Old Cats and Old People

Old people get to be like old cats!

When you get old and retire, you measure time differently.  Before, when you were young and working, it was always "I hate Mondays!" until "Hump Day" and then "Thank God It's Friday!" and "I just live for the Weekend!" and then repeat again.  You count down the days to your two-week summer vacation or until the Christmas holidays.  And then repeat again.

Old people count time differently.  Every day is another weekly Advent calendar on your pillbox.  Let's see, is today Tuesday?  Did I forget to take my pills again?  Weeks go by based on the trash collection.  Monday Night - trash night!  Better get the rolly-bin out there tonight, as they come by early!  Is this a recycling week?  I can't remember - better check the calendar!

Such are the days of our lives.

When every day is vacation, it is hard to keep track of time, other than the unyielding clock of the trash pickup or the daily ritual of medicine.

At first, retirement seems like a lot of fun.  The "younger" set (anyone under 80) goes to (or holds) parties or goes to bars and restaurants, or plays golf or tennis or goes on cruises or bus tours or bike riding or whatever.  Always some activity to do!  As you age, "activity" narrows down to "going for a walk" and sometimes you have to force yourself to even do that.  Having a dog helps.  We are dog-sitting this week.

But as people age, they get to be like old cats.  We had three cats, and two of them lived to be at least 20 years old.  As they got to those final years, they ate less, got all skinny and bony and wanted to just sit and sleep all day and purr.  They also sort of retreated from activities - going outside less and doing less.  The old kitten days were gone.  One cat wandered off to die (which they tend to do) and we found his lifeless body in a neighbor's barn.  Poor kitty.  He was a good cat.

Old people, once they reach a certain age - and that age depends on the person - start to withdraw from society and get all skinny and bony as well - just like cats!  Perhaps it is because socializing becomes harder as eyesight dims and hearing fades.  I find this a problem already as going to a party or restaurant or reception is a cacophony of noise and it is hard to hear people's individual voices. I tend to nod and agree with people without understanding what they are saying half the time.  Socializing is about social grooming more than what is being said.  It is just acknowledgement of other's presence and importance to you.

I think also, as faculties fail and the body starts its slow decline, people feel embarrassed about being infirm.  When going up and down stairs becomes a major hassle, you tend to want to do it less.  And one bad fall can break brittle antique bones - and even kill you, as recently happened to a friend of mine, after it killed his father as well.  So people feel less inclined to go out.

Mental illness or more precisely, mental decline, comes into play.  Some older folks become downright anti-social, finding fault in friends and family and making enemies for little or no reason.  With women in particular, nasty gossip is spread around and people start getting weird about trivial things.  "We need to blackball Suzie from the Parcheesi club - her casserole is too dry!"

Then again, there is dementia.  One of Mark's LoL's (Little Old Ladies) came to the door the other day, mad as a hornet that Mark wasn't at her house at 8:00AM to help her clean out her garage.  "It's Wednesday!  He said he'd be here!"  I had to gently remind her that it was, in fact, Tuesday and the agreed-upon time was 10:00 AM.  It is very sad, but that's why we have assisted living, so someone can take charge of our daily schedule and handle trivial things for us, so we can relax.  Who needs or wants a big old house to rattle around in?  Not me!

That's not an isolated incident, either.  Old people get pissed-off about the slightest things and will hold a grudge forever.  I've seen it among friends and neighbors - feudin' like the Hatfield's and McCoy's!

We moved here 18 years ago and some of the oldsters told us "You're too young to be living here!" as Mark was 40 and I was 45.  Well, no one is saying that anymore.  Most of the folks who said that to us have shuffled off the mortal coil.  We're the old people now.  Well, not the really old people, but like cats, they tend to stay home and have withdrawn from most socializing.

Having watched this process for almost two decades now, well, we hope we are learning something.  Maybe we can avoid becoming recluses in our own home and narrowing our lives like Emmett Kelly's or Carol Burnett's swept-up spotlight, until it becomes a tiny dot and disappears entirely.

Or.. maybe this is an inevitable part of aging - and one reason why "assisted living" is not such a bad thing.  We used to laugh at "old people" living in retirement homes and taking packaged bus tours.  But now we realize that such arrangements can enforce socialization and activity among the elderly.  Living alone at home, with declining health can result in depression and worse.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - a house can be a trap for the elderly.  There is nothing wrong with living in a well-maintained and well-run retirement community.  Such places not only make elderly living easier, but arguably can extend your life - and your enjoyment of it.

The alternative is becoming a recluse, never leaving the house, and ending up being found dead in the living room - weeks after you passed.

Hope the cat didn't eat your face!