Mar 5, 2007

The Aging Process

There is no way around it - this process of aging we all must face at some point. I guess there is plastic surgery, but even then we are faced with physical (and sometimes mental) changes. Even at 34 I can see some of these - the tiny lines near my eyes that were nonexistent a few years ago, the pain in my lower back, the constant state of fatigue I feel.

I've noticed these changes in my family as well. My mother and father are 62 and 63 years old, respectively, and they've both experienced some physical issues. Nothing more than small things that happen as we get older, but they are things that make me realize that they are no longer in their 40's.

The reason I bring all of this up is that my grandfather will celebrate his 91st birthday on March 15th. In the past few years I have noticed significant changes in him - his mobility as well as his attitude/emotional state. My grandfather is the most amazing person I've met - yes, I'm biased, but believe me it's true. He is the son of immigrant parents who fled Europe for the hope of a better life in Chicago. He was an excellent student who dreamed of studying engineering in college, but gave that up to help his father run his store. He is a veteran of WW II. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He is a very spiritual man. He is the most kind and generous person I know.

My grandmother passed away in 1995, and since then, my grandfather has lived alone in his house on the outskirts of Chicago. My grandparents bought this house, their first and only house, in 1962. This was a proud moment for two people who grew up during The Depression and learned English as their second language. However, over the last few years, my family has been encouraging my grandfather to think about the prospect of an assisted-living center. His mobility has been severely compromised and he continues to attempt to get to his laundry room located in the basement. He has to go down the stairs the way a toddler learns to do it - backwards and on his hands and knees. My father has suggested a laundry service that can pickup and drop off his clothing. He will not do it.

A few years ago, this was sort of funny. We joked about it and I was even proud that he was so independent. But it's not like that any longer. For the first time in his life, he failed his driver's test to renew his license. Last week, he failed it for the third time. Two years ago, he side-swiped a car on his way from from my parents' house. The police showed up at his door at midnight, but did not give him a ticket. A few months ago, he thought someone was going to swerve into his lane, so he overcompensated and ended up on the sidewalk. Fortunately, he did not hit anyone.

These incidents, coupled with other behaviors and issues, are obviously alarming to my family. He can no longer clean his house, take out the garbage, shovel his driveway, or take himself to doctor's appointments. He admitted to my father the other day that he believes he is in a depression.

It just breaks my heart to hear this. I know that one of these days - very soon - we will be helping him move out of his house. The very house that signifies his independence. His license will be gone. His home will be gone. And I fear what will happen to him. He thrives from his independence, and I know that the loss of it will do significant damage to him - to his soul.

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