To Get Old

my grandmother at 19 years of age
Yesterday, a pictorial featuring French photographer Sacha Goldberger’s 91 year-old grandmother, Frederika, as a superhero made the rounds. It was impossible not to melt when looking at the distinct woman’s face. The story of 91 years and her escape from Nazism and Communism play out in every crevice and line on her face. Goldberger came up with the idea after he noticed that his grandmother was feeling “lonely and depressed” and after some “reluctance” he finally convinced Frederika to participate in the project.

Looking at this slide show made me think about my 83 year-old grandmother, Nan, and her recent bout of depression. Depression might not be the right word for it. Sheer boredom, having no job to wake up to, no family to take care of, realizing that most of your friends are dead, and dealing with a domestic partner that is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease is more like it.

my grandmother in her 40’s

I talk to my grandmother multiple times in a week. She is my second mom and outside of a few stories that would only make her stay up and worry all night (something that she is very good at), I share everything with her. When I call her, I can’t wait to hear the enthusiastic, “Hi sweetheart!” on the other line. I reply with with, “Hi grandma! How are you?” but I always know the line that comes next- a pause, then a faint, “Ok”. This is not a jubilant “ok”, this is a my-life-is-just-ok “ok”. I usually ask her what is wrong and she repeats, “I’m bored. My life is boring.” No matter how many times she says this it never fails to bother me. Though my mother lives across the street and I call her often, that will never change the fact that she is 83 years old and so many aspects of her life are different now.

I listen to her as she explains her frustration that she is no longer in complete control of her body and mind. Recently she had Carpal Tunnel surgery and currently has a slipped disc in her back. Though she is stoic and a martyr in all the best ways a Jewish woman can be, she can’t help but voice her “disgust” that she just can’t get up and go go go like she used to. I point out that she’s 83, goes to the gym 3-4 days a week, and she always looks like she just stepped out of a movie. However, that is not good enough for my grandmother and I believe that this tenacity is what has kept her so vivacious for all these years.

When my grandmother and I have these conversations I try to put myself in her shoes. Becoming old is something we all do, but not something we understand until we experience it. I try thinking about watching the people that I love come and go, to wake up every morning feeling that there is little to look forward to, that the highlights of my day consist of going to the grocery store, that I can’t walk like I used to, talk like I used to, and I’m just plain old tired. Of course this picture is not the same for all senior citizens, but it is for most, if not worse, and I think about the lack of patience we have as a society for the elderly. How our lack of understanding and fear of getting old makes us react negatively towards the people who often need our help the most.

my 83 year-old, plastic surgery-less grandmother, photo taken last december

I will be seeing my grandmother for the first time in almost a year next week. I’m beyond excited. I’m also scared. Scared to see her with a little less spunk in her step and a little more tiredness in her eyes. I’m also scared to see her partner, my surrogate grandfather, Lionel, going through forgetting our names, not waking up until noon, and telling my grandmother that he wants to die.

I’m scared because when I see her, I want do everything for her. I want to take her boredom away. I want to bring her friends back. I want to make me a little girl again. I want to take her all over the world. I want to make her a superhero…but I can’t.

Are/were close with your grandparents? What are your thoughts on aging? 

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  • Reply Sailor Legs November 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I feel completely blessed to have all 4 of my grandparents still here with me.

    Mother's side, my spunky abuelita takes care of my grumpy abuelito. She guilt trips me when I don't call enough and I let her because she's right. I need to reach out more.

    Father's Side, I'm actually trekking to Lubbock, TX to see my peepaw [abuelito] for the first time in years. I miss him and I'll take that long 6 hr drive only to smell cow shit when I arrive.

    My guelita [abuelita] is one that I'm probably the closest with. She slaps each tattoo I have on my arm and she tries to pull out my lip ring. Then she follows it with a giant hug, smile, and tons of kisses. She has the biggest heart out of anyone I know and the most contagious laughter. You have to give credit to a woman who raised my amazing father, would pick up any hitch hiker on the road [pobresito], and still drives with two feet.
    She also makes sure that every election I vote.

    I really don't know what I would do if I lost any of them. But I know that time is coming, I just hope to make them proud in the meantime.

  • Reply Benny November 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Cool to hear that your grandma lives right near your mom. My only living grandparent is a misanthropic Irish cat lady but she's awesome. I feel like lives in the middle of nowhere so she'll have an excuse to feel lonely… and it kind of works. I guess I've never had a grandparent who felt a social and active life slipping away. I'd never thought about that.

    Lots of people tell me I'm already an old man. I'd like to think that that will make getting older easier. Either way, it's scary. I talk to old people and like their ramblings, but it's staggering how many people don't have the patience, or just don't like to be reminded of the fact that they'll get old.

  • Reply Just Plain Tired November 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I always thought my grandmother would live forever. She was full of energy which suddenly quickly faded before her death. It was shocking to see.

  • Reply Emily November 19, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I totally agree with this post, people tend to patronise or talk down to old people like they're children and it drives me mad. People don't understand what it's like to old until they are old. I'm not looking forward to it personally…

    P.S tell your grandma I think she doesn't look a day after 60!

  • Reply theTsaritsa November 19, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    I love my Granny– I try to call her at least once a week and she likes to tell me about all the animals that come visit her garden. She has a possum now that eats her food at night. Beautiful post, I hope you have fun with her!

  • Reply Allison November 19, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Your grandmother looks amazing! I have an old photo of my grandma that I really need to frame.

  • Reply girluntitled November 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    holy dinah! i wanna look like that when i'm 83…wow

  • Reply Nikki November 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    She is beautiful. I know what you're going through – the last time I was home, I sat with my grandma for 4 hours listening to her talk about porcelin painting – her hobby, which she is INCREDIBLE at. I know it's the only thing she enjoys in life, since my pop-pop passed (with alzheimer's) a couple years ago, and it bores everyone except her. So I sat and listened, because it was all I could do for her. Just being there & loving her is all you can really do. 🙂
    …and girl, you have some great genes!!

  • Reply KeLLy aNN November 19, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Your grandmother is gorgeous!
    I hope she can get out of her down home funk.
    My MawMaw {my dad's mother} was my life. She died 5 weeks before I married my now husband in 2000.
    They buried Her the day before my birthday which just plain sucked.
    I was her ABSOLUTE favorite, She told Me. My Dad died a week after we married. In one vicious sweep, I lost the two people who loved Me unconditionally, completely just for being Me.
    From that day forward I have fought, cursed, and feared getting older {I'm 43 now.}
    My grandmother was 94 when she passed away. She taught Me the proper way to make Chicken and Dumplings, and Rice Pudding.
    She crochet a pink afghan for me that I still have.
    I truly believe if she wouldn't have existed, I would have killed my self or tried. For the last 14 years of her life I would respond to her same complaints that She took care of Us, now it's Our turn to take care of Her; I urged Her to talk about Her Life's History, I took her to Picadilly every chance I could, and I visit her grave every so often.
    She is so truly missed.

  • Reply Tara Rose Stromberg November 19, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    It's true what you say about not understanding anything about getting old until you are there. I've watched my grandmother age and been there for the passing of two of her siblings (my great aunt and uncle) and you wonder what it's like to have to think about death every day as if it's around the corner.

    It makes you realize how lucky we really are as twenty-somethings….only it doesn't matter, because we'll still complain about our lives until we reach the age when we'll really miss all that crap.

  • Reply KeLLy aNN November 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    well crap {stupid typos}: just to clarify:

    for the last 14 years of her life, my grandmother made the same complaints and I told her, she took care of us, and now its our turn to take care of her.

  • Reply DeRosa080208 November 19, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    My grandparents on my dads side just moved to Washington to live with my Aunt because she's retired and has the time to take care of them. I miss them like crazy and I'm sad I can't just go see them whenever I want now. My grandma is suffering from dementia and is having to live in assisted living because she won't co operate and its so hard to see her deteriorate like that. She was always so up beat and kind, always trying to make someone else's life easier. My grandpa is just trying to out live her. My grandparents on my moms side have already passed and that was so difficult, I don't know what I'll do when they're all gone.

  • Reply Melanie's Randomness November 22, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Oh I love my grandparents so much. I'm lucky to have all of them still alive & they have taught me so much. I have to see them all on the holidays or it just isnt the holidays to me.

    Melanie's Randomness

  • Reply laurenne November 22, 2010 at 2:54 am

    Oh man, I really love this. Your grandma is absolutely beautiful, now and before.
    I miss mine so much, and I could also tell how miserable she was getting older. It's going to suck. But hopefully we'll all be there for each other. I think our generation's aging will be different. How can we be lonely with internet friends!?

    I feel so much for your wonderful grandma and I'm sending her a hug.

  • Reply Jackie November 22, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Hey, I'm Chase's girlfriend, Jackie. It was good seeing you again on Saturday and I'm glad to know that as technologically backward as Chase is, he at least knows another blogger (which was information that was withheld from me!). Hopefully, we'll see each other at the Bleet Up!

  • Reply The Mad Dame November 22, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    My grandmother breaks my heart every time I talk to her because she can only dwell on all those who have died before her (she was the oldest of 7 full siblings). When I talked to her last week, I talked about her coming to see my senior thesis film at the showcase in May and her response was that she didn't know if she was still going to be around and that she wouldn't say that she was going to come. She's mostly independent at 90 years old but she has no confidence with herself.

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