Since college, I’ve spent at least one week every year down in Florida hanging out with my grandparents. Early on, I would shuffle back and forth between my mother’s and my father’s parents, as their condos were just seven miles apart.
Unbeknownst to me until a few years ago, those trips were less about lounging by the pool, eating dinner at 4:30 or seeing how many sugar packets one could stuff into their purses at the diner, and more about gaining insight into the aging process.
While I don’t have a master’s degree in Geriatric Psychology, I do know a great deal about seniors. Which is why I was chosen to go on Papa Patrol last week. And while it was nice to spend a week with my grandfather, I could see there were times he wasn’t the man I used to know. The man who I can still picture standing behind the deli counter in his grocery store making me a ham (“Don’t tell nana”) sandwich and conversing with customers. Instead I saw a 93-year-old man, walking painfully slow, confused about his medication and scared about the future.
Having unofficially studied the aging process, I knew to be calm, sympathetic and caring – caring being the optimal word. I saw firsthand how uncaring many in health care, Medicare, and long-term care can be. Anyone who’s had to deal with these places is familiar with the frustrating red tape, but imagine doing this with hearing that’s failing, blurry eyesight and a mind that isn’t as sharp as it once was. The world can be pretty terrifying as it races by. Our twilight years should be spent enjoying grandchildren, not arguing with pharmacists at Walgreens.
Every night, Papa and I tackled organizing projects. Not only because I’m good at them, but because it kept his mind occupied, as that was the toughest part of the
day. One evening we went through his old address book and I rewrote the names into a new one. As Papa read through each page he would sigh and say, “I don’t know who dis is” or “I don’t call him anymore” or “They’re dead.”
Of all the lessons I’ve learned over the years from this older generation, such as “save your money,” the biggest piece of advice came last week.
“Don’t get old,” my grandfather said.
“Okay, Papa,” I said. “I’ll try.”