If we are really, really lucky we get to grow old. We bitch and moan about the nuisance and inconvenience of aging, but when you consider the alternative, for most It’s a no-brainer.
We have a front-row seat to the end stages of the process with Roy’s 95-year-old aunt. She is confused about her whereabouts and thinks the closets and cupboards she sees hold the objects from her apartment. We see her refuse to eat the ?garbage? they’re feeding her at the hospital.
But she is a feisty old gal, and I am taking notes for both how to and how not to age gracefully. As someone who loves to call a spade a spade, I admire her outspokenness. Most old people don’t suffer fools gladly and feel they’ve earned the right to stop pussyfooting around the truth as they see it.
When a palliative care physician came to assess her suitability for either long-term care or hospice, we sat through the now-familiar questionnaire. When asked to write a sentence, Roy’s aunt wrote ?Time to leave.? When the doctor and Roy stepped into the hall to talk, she whispered, ?Jackass.? She said, ?He calls himself a doctor? Roy could do the same.?
Her referring to him as Dr. Killem Quick reassures us that her sense of humour is intact despite the indignity of becoming dependent. It’s a damn fine defense, and one I intend to copy.
We were stunned when a bed in long-term care opened up about a week after we picked three options. Because she was declared incapable of making her own decisions, Roy’s role as enduring power of attorney kicked in. And our work began.
Giving notice at her apartment, disposing of its contents, cancelling utilities, and assuming her banking were at the top of the list. We moved a nightstand and some photos of her beloved dog, Barney, to decorate her space in her semi-private room. What was harder was digging through her dresser drawers and closet trying to figure out what to take to the new place. We wrote her name on neck tags, because items go missing with communal laundry service for a hundred people.
We wonder if the things I selected were her favourites or items that simply hadn’t been purged for whatever reason. It felt invasive to be handling undergarments, to see that we all hang onto items long past their serviceable lives. Some of the items we’re donating look like they belong on the set of Mad Men.
When we die or make our final move to a place like long-term care, we lose control over our stuff. The cliché about not being able to take it with you is true. Picking through the stuff of her life was both easier and harder than I imagined. Harder because it was sad grunt work; easier because much of it was going to an agency that transitions the homeless into homes. That’s not a bad legacy, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.