Monday, November 25, 2013
How Will They Remember Me?
I saw this essay in the New York Times, and it made me so sad. I understand how the writer came to be the grumpy old Grandma that's she's become, but I truly hope and pray that this is not an ordained future for all of us. At this point, my husband and I are independent, and, in fact, our children still rely on us for a great many things. But in another 10 years this will surely change and I hope that I can re-read this and remind myself to be grateful and cheerful. I hope that I can suffer old age with dignity and wisdom.
This is my analogy that I hope will guide me through the next phase of life. We took a trip once that involved three major areas of one country. The first two legs were amazing, we had such fun, good food, learned a lot and made great memories. Unfortunately, the final leg was a big city where everything was expensive, every place was crowded, my husband had his pocket picked, and we couldn't wait to get out of there. We left with a bad taste in our mouths about the country, just because of our bad experience in one city. I don't want the final phase of my life to leave a bad taste in the mouths of my children and grandchildren.
November 8, 2013, 5:00 am
‘A Very Ungrateful Old Lady’
I am a legally blind octogenarian. I have wonderful adult children who often help me, but I can never accept their help gracefully.
It is a terrible thing to be a burden. They say I am not, but I know better. Perhaps many of you have parents like me.
My own parents, working class Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, were ordinary people trying hard, but beset by the Depression and bad luck. And I was their burden: a second daughter when they needed a son. My parents were survivors and their fears were real, and I do not mean to belittle them. But they left me with a lifelong fear and loathing of dependence.
One day while playing kick-the-can on the street, a boy knocked the sharp edge of the open lid right into my knee. My weeping mother carried me to the doctor, who sewed it up for fifty cents, and for years afterwards my mother upbraided me for playing rough boys’ games and costing so much money.
I was determined never again to be a burden.
Now I am 86 and almost blind. I cannot read the bills that come in the mail nor sign my own checks. I must be escorted to medical appointments. My busy children are kind beyond measure, but I am uncomfortable in these situations. And being uncomfortable makes me sharp and unpleasant.
When my children run my errands, sort my medications, buy me delicacies, accompany me on medical trips — even do my laundry! — I am somehow reduced to that Brooklyn girl whose struggling parents just couldn’t cope — and it was her fault.
My children point out that this thinking makes no sense. But that there’s no logic to this is irrelevant. We are the sum of our years and experiences, and I never could add properly.
My daughter the doctor is constantly on call for me, and I am unable to accept it with any grace. She takes me every two months for a shot in my eye that controls my macular degeneration. The shot always scares me.
My daughter comes to pick me up and suggests we take a taxi. I nix that idea and say I prefer the subway. The A train. If it was good enough for Duke Ellington, I say, it’s good enough for me. So we take the subway. I get the shot. I always feel terrible afterward, blinder than usual and drained by the whole effort. My daughter suggests we call a car service to go home, but again I invoke the Duke. We go downtown on the A.
Once home, she looks in my refrigerator and offers to go downstairs to the great food shop and buy me a really fine lunch to make me feel better. I decline and tell her I know there’s enough food in the house. She makes disparaging comments about the wilted lettuce in my refrigerator, but I refuse any delicacies.
She’s eager to set up a book on tape or a musical recording to make my long blinder-than-usual afternoon pleasant. I decline.
Finally, on an irritated note, she goes away, and I am left in my silent apartment, with my wilted lettuce.
My children try so hard, and after all, they know what I like. My son and his family feed me gourmet dinners and I overeat, because I’m a glutton. My younger daughter sends me free passes to interesting movie previews and discussions, and I go and enjoy them (especially because they’re free) even with my limited vision.
So why can’t I just be grateful? Why am I so resistant, so irrational, so difficult and unpleasant? Because burdens aren’t grateful, any more than they’re graceful.
It is not that I am unaware of all that is being done for me. Quite the contrary, I am painfully aware of it. I hear the echoes from my childhood, accusing me, repeating a single word. Burden.
I don’t want to be taken care of, and I resent that I have lost independence — that really, I have no free choice. My life is now directed by other people the way it was when I was a child. That they are people who love me is irrelevant.
Sorry, kids, but I was never gracious, and it just gets harder and harder. I want the right, at 86, to play kick-the-can, to do whatever I choose, and that right has been forfeited to age and decrepitude, and I mind it terribly. Which makes me a very ungrateful old lady.
Do most people resent being old and losing freedom? Surely, they must! Perhaps they have better manners and have learned to be complaisant. But this is my life. Still.
Sheila Solomon Klass is professor emerita of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. She blogs at blogginggrandma.com.