Mark Twain

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

L - Loss

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

L is for Loss

A realistic overview of Retirement and Aging cannot be complete without talking about the topic of loss.  It is, unfortunately,  a depressing but predictable and part of the aging story - universal regardless of your income level or social standing.  For example - even Prince Philip in England has finally had his driving privileges withdrawn after a serious motor vehicle accident.

The impact of age and its resulting losses knows no boundaries.

All humans experience normal gains and losses throughout their lives.  Generally normal gains out weigh losses easy in life.  What is different in the elderly, is that losses far outnumber the gains as each year passes.

If you are not following my line of thinking let me offer an example of my mom's gains and losses in her years with me.

Mom had lived a very normal lower-middle class life after dad died in 1970.  She was a secretary, she never owned property, she drove, owned a car, saved money, and traveled.  Sure, she had losses during that time, but she also had many gains.  Independence, consistent employment and standard of living, a growing group of friends, great health, a close family, a comfortable retirement and lots of free time.  It was a typical gain-and-loss kind of life - the kind most of us live.

But then aging started to slow down her retirement mojo and her losses began to outnumber her gains.

It was noticeable in her late 70s - the losses looked something like this:
  • Trouble making decisions. (A loss of confidence??  Maybe.  But not her style)
  • Unable to balance her check book. (Definitely a red flag - she was always smart and great with numbers.  My husband took that over.)
  • Watching TV shows with little or no story line to follow. (She stopped reading for the same reason.)
  • Friendship circle began to shrink - some moved, some died, and some just slipped through the cracks of memory. 
These were all small and manageable losses, and she could function well enough to "fake it."

As the cost of living began to over take her retirement income, we encouraged her to move in with us.  That decision took 2 years to make and she was 80 at the time of the move.  The move represented a partial loss of independence, but a gain for her in the family "safety net."

Once she was living with us I noticed other losses.

  • I noticed some odd behaviors.  (Loss of logical thinking.)
  • She got lost driving to an event in her old neighborhood. (Loss of some memories.)
  • She once drove through a red light while I was in her car. (Loss of attention??)
  • She began to have problems parking in pull-in spaces. (Time to give up driving.  A BIG loss of freedom but a huge gain for safety.)
  • Poor decision making on medical issues. (I started attending her doctor appointments.  I had to monitor her medications.)
Now we had reached the point of frequent hospitalizations where the losses built one on top of each other.
  • Heath status declined along with quality of life.  (Loss, loss, loss)
  • Frequent falls.  Frequent infections.  Frequent in patient rehabilitations.  (Each episode a loss - with a new lower level of "normal.")
  • Finally unable to climb the stairs into my townhome.  (Loss of strength - resulted in a move to Assisted Living)
Serious losses that she could never get past.
  • She moved into Assisted Living - a high quality community. (Loss of regular family contact - although I visited her 4-5 times a week.)
  • Retirement "nest egg" she so carefully built over the years began to shrink with great speed.  (Every check I wrote on her behalf made me sad for her - $9,000 a month eats up years of careful saving.  The speed of loss at this stage is enormous.)
  • She resisted community activities.  (Loss of regular social and mental stimulation.)
  • Her health surprising remained stable for 2 years before she developed skin ulcers on her legs (a sign of other pressing medical problems beyond control due to her age.)
  • A last hospitalization resulted in placement in the Nursing Home.  (That loss was the biggest of all - she never wanted to be in a Nursing Home.)
  • Her dementia during this time was sliding downward quickly.  (Loss of names and faces and relationships.  She even lost her ability to swallow.  She never lost her faith in God.  Even in the worst of times she would pray.  I think she continued to know my face to the end - even if she didn't know my name.) 

Her losses always became my losses, too.  I struggled as her caregiver to fight back against this aging decline and dementia.  I lost the fight every single time!  And I cried a lot during this whole downward slide.  I hate to lose and I hated watching her lose!

There are a few blessedly lucky and genetically gifted seniors who live independently and in good health well into their 90s.  THEY are the exception.  We all hope we can win the 'Age-Well Lottery!'

I no longer mourn my mother's dead.  
Everyone will die.  
It is the way of nature.
I do continue to mourn my mom's losses.  
She deserved better from nature in her last years.
She was cheated!

One last sincere request from the heart of a caregiver. 

The next time you feel annoyed with a senior ... any senior ... try to remember -
  almost all seniors are losing slowly with everyday that passes.  
Try to show patience - understanding - compassion.
But most of all - patience!

You have not yet walked in their shoes.
  I guarantee, 
it will be harder than you can imagine.




Susan Scott said...

This is so feelingly described of the really sad and tragic losses that many of us have to face - a good reminder to us all thank you ..

John Holton said...

I remember when my father-in-law's macular degeneration got so bad that he had to give up driving. He gave his car to us, and when we went to pick it up, he was crying: it was just one more thing he lost the ability to do.

After my stroke, I had to face the fact that the fine muscle movements in my hand were probably not coming back, making playing the guitar and writing with a pen impossible. Fortunately, I figured out how to type with one hand...

John @ The Sound Of One Hand Typing

Josna Rege said...

I love this. You don't sugar-coat the progressive and inexorable loss, both for the person experiencing it directly, and for everyone who loves and cares for that person. I empathize with your account of your mother's experience when :" her losses began to outnumber her gains," because I looked after my mother as she lost her independence because of Alzheimer's Disease. She passed away a year ago, just before the disease was about to enter its worst late stage. I am grateful for that; she had had quite enough losses. I'd like to write some time about the ways in which she kept her identity and her loving, fighting, spirit, but for now I will just say thank you very much for this, and for your loving care of your mother.

Marie Smith said...

My grandmother went through the series of losses you describe. She deserved better too. We all do. Sending a hug from eastern Canada.

Seeking Serenity said...

I went through these losses with my mom also, each step holding her hand..
making the people who were taking advantage go away.
she has alz and is in memorycare now.

Lael said...

Oh I'm sobbing. For you, your mum. For all of us.
This is a beautiful piece. Thank you so much.

netablogs said...

Such a great post! My mom is in her 80's now and definitely losing more than gaining. Your reminder is such good advice. It's easy to lose patience until we put ourselves in their shoes. I'm going to write down your advice and send it to my siblings, as well. Thankfully, my siblings are wonderful caregivers to my widowed mom. I only wish I lived closer so I could visit her more often.