This year winter struck only twice: once on Halloween and once before St. Patrick’s Day. In between, temperatures ranged from 30 to 50 degrees, with an occasional 60 degree day. Snow bunnies felt deprived. The rest of us wanted to shout, “Hallelujah!” As I’m starting to feel the effects of aging, this winter has been… dare I say, a windfall?
This March morning as I sit down to write, I gaze out at 8 inches of frozen slush. As Spring storms are wont to do, this one arrived wet and heavy, then froze overnight. This morning there’s more “winter mix.” Plagued by asthma and arthritis, I’m unable to shovel the whole deck and walkway, so I’ve cleared a grim little path from my front door to the driveway, which happily, a plowman keeps clear. In years past I would’ve cleared the whole deck and walkway, however heavy the snow. And I would’ve relaxed afterward with a cup of tea, enjoying an endorphine rush. Today, I gasp and pant as I make my way to the medicine cabinet in search of pain meds. I drink my tea while contemplating the snow cluttered deck and walkway, feeling badly about how it looks. I take pride in my property and maintain it faithfully. Today the view from the street suggests laziness and it rankles.
So why do I feel guilty about my diminished physical capacity? Aging is natural, right? It happens to everyone. Joints stiffen, weight accumulates, muscles lose their tone, breath shortens. I work out, but the sessions have to be shorter and less rigorous than in the past. Fifteen minutes on the eliptical wipe me out. I have to focus on the countless tv screens in my club’s exercise area to get through a bicycling program. Sometimes I give up.
I should be prepared for this process. My mother lived into her 90’s, so I’ve had years of education, up close and personal. Bless her, she aged with consumate grace, so the learning wasn’t even unpleasant, apart from the sadness of knowing we’d lose her. Yet here I am staring grumpily at my lumpy back yard, thinking, “I should be able to do better.” Do I just lack will power?
On reflection, I realize it’s not about anger, or even self blame. It’s about fear. How long will I be able to keep up with the snow, the cleaning, the garden, the repairs, the lawn? Will I be able to stay in my own home? I can hire people to do the physical work, but is there enough money? Will maintenance people arrive in a timely manner or will I become a telephone nag? If I have to downsize to a condo in a retirement community, will I be able to bring my beloved quadruped companions? At home I can let the dogs out into a fenced in yard. Will I have the stamina to walk them several times a day if I move to a condo? And there’s no question of living without them: they’re essential to my quality of life.
Money is, of course, the #2 preoccupation of most peoples’ later years, #1 being health. I own my own dog daycare business, and it’s doing well enough that I can sell it when I can no longer keep up. Even now, arthritis makes it difficult to control the larger breeds. Emptying mop buckets and taking the trash to the dumpster grow harder every day. My staff is wonderful; they do all they can to cover for me, but when the wheels fell off America’s economic cart in 2008, we shrank to a skeleton staff. There’s still not enough to hire back and everyone is stretched thin. But if I sell the business, how long with the proceeds last? Will I outlive my money once the income from the business goes away? Old age is nothing if not rife with questions. I remember my mother muttering the inevitable, “Old age’s not for sissys.”
To maintain some semblance of sanity, I struggle to stay in the present while keeping in mind the need to plan. The immediate priorities are staying within my budget so that I’m paying the bills with income, not savings; and finding enough to pay a lawn service for the upcoming Spring cleanup. I can handle today’s chores at home and at my doggie daycare, and the snow is probably over for this year. With regard to the future, I tell myself, “I’ll figure it out.” It’s my old age mantra: I’ll figure it out…with a little help from my friends.