Aging aint what it used to be

Milan, New Hampshire. Where Great Grandfather Herbert Nichols was born.

New Hampshire village where Great Grandfather Herbert Nichols was born and where many of his relatives lived until they died.

Atul Gwande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. 

Sunday evenings, David and I watch a BBC series, Waiting for God. We’ve been watching the half-hour episodes, now all reruns, ever since they were first released in the U.S.  Because the series ran for only seven seasons in the UK, and the BBC seasons were short,  there are not many episodes.

Thus we know each episode by heart, and can recite the lines before the actors speak.  We even recite them to each other from time to time.  Neither David or I are exactly like the characters Tom and Diana, two older people consigned to life in an assisted living facility, but we share characteristics, and the older we become, the more we understand them.

Reading Atul Gwande’s book (title above), I have come to better understand some of the frustrations of older people face with a debilitating condition. I began reading Gwande’s book after Tom Sightings mentioned it in his blog post a few days ago.  The first chapters depressed me so much I sent it back.  Sitting in a waiting room yesterday, I pulled my little Kindle out of my purse and found the book was still there.  I began reading again, and soon became engrossed.  When I got home, I ordered the book once more, and now am well into it.

Basically what Gwande describes is what I had figured out on my own over the past several decades.


Researching my family tree, in the nineteenth century I see a pattern where the surviving member of a couple lives with a relative. Sometimes, as in the case of my grandmother’s grandmother, a father lives with a daughter and her family.  Or an aunt makes her home with her sister and nephew in his family home.

By the twentieth century, maiden aunts live with an aging mother or father in the parental home. For example, Great Aunt Ida lived with my grandmother’s grandmother until the latter died at which point Ida married. My Aunt Marge lived with grandma who suffered with diabetes and ALS until she died.

Aunt Marge never married, but when she was in her seventies, she became a member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Aging. I learned much about aging first-hand from Aunt Marge, who did not enter a retirement home until she was 91.  Had she an alternative, she would have stayed in her apartment home where many other aging couples and singles lived and aged in place.

The building was well sited, in the center of Sheboygan WI, facing Lake Michigan. Marge had a view of the Great Lake from her living room.  Sadly, when the owner of the building died, his son sold this prime piece of real estate to a developer who turned it into vacation condos for those who could afford a second home. The renters who could not afford to buy were displaced. Marge and all her friends, most of them retired single female school teachers like herself who had lived in the building for decades and were on fixed incomes, moved to retirement facilities. A year or two later most of them were dead.  I am still angry about this travesty.


In the early chapters, Gwande describes what happened when several older people of his acquaintance became institutionalized after their families could no longer care for them or they could not live on their own.  I found the first chapters difficult.  Then he describes how some enterprising souls created ways to improve the lives of those who could no longer live independently or with relatives. I am half-way through the book, so I don’t know where he goes from here.

This week, David received a note in the mail from a religious non-profit retirement facility of our acquaintance about an upcoming seminar on support for residents aging in place. We’ve signed up to attend the 21st of October and I will report about the event later. After years of courting David and other aging residents in the county, the religious group, which founded two assisted-living retirement facilities here in Arlington, decided to expand their mission to community outreach.  We shall see how this works.

24 thoughts on “Aging aint what it used to be

  1. I’ve never been old before, so it’s a whole new experience. We have our affairs in order to make things easier for those remaining after we depart. Right now, we’re doing just fine living in our country place. It helps a lot to have a caring son living nearby. Beyond that, we try to keep flexibility in our thinking about the future. One certainty is that our situation will change.


  2. I (sheepishly) admit I have not read Gawande’s book yet — only read about it — but it’s on my list. I think that’s probably a big decision all of us survivors will face at some point — age at home, or enter assisted living. For now, I’d rather not think about it.


    • I bought the niches, for our cremated remains, in the cemetery across the road years ago. We will be interred in a wall that faces West, and the niches are near my Daughter’s first husband and his parents.

      Ditto our wills, DNR, power of attorney, and medical directives. Also purchased LTC policies for each of us, taking the burden off loved ones. Gwande’s book is wonderful. The most honest book about aging and the end of life I have read, and I have read most of them.

      Whether we think about it or not, the thoughts lie beneath the surface. Embrace them and come into the light.


  3. I have watched that show many times but not lately. The main actors are very familiar to me as I remember watching them on British television years ago. Yesterday a friend called me and we chatted at great length about our aches and pains. I never thought I would arrive at that stage of my life but I guess I am there!


    • I am the greatest Anglophile you ever knew. I love British actors. Bill Nighy is a fav today. Had a crush on James Mason when I was a teenager. Named my oldest son Richard after Richard I. Saw the film, Richard I, with Rex Harrison as Saladin when I was a teen. Have loved Kurds ever since. Maybe I should write a post about this? Ha Ha. All our screen idols are older too.


  4. I look forward to your post on the Oct. 21 event. My husband and I have both encountered some challenges in the past few months. They are not making me more conscious of how even with existing services for elders and disabled in our community, we would probably need to make a move if my husband could no longer drive.


    • Yes, we must be city mice. I need mass transportation, taxis etc. when both of us can no longer drive. At present he does most of the driving. After the stroke, I became fearful of driving, although I am back behind the wheel again today. I would have been in commuter traffic if the stroke had occurred 10 minutes later.

      My neighbor Kathy takes the bus everywhere, although with upcoming radiation treatments, she will need rides from neighbors like me and David. The meeting Oct 21 is to offer support for ‘aging in place’ residents, which we hope to be for a few more years.


  5. I loved watching “Waiting for God” when it played here on our PBS station, and like you, saw many reruns. I don’t know if you watch “Doc Martin,” but the actress who played Diana is also in the early seasons of the show. She went on to do a stage play, I believe, and they killed her off.


    • Stephanie Cole. I read she was going to play the MIL from hell in another series? Yes, we watch Doc Martin, but it doesn’t have the same appeal. The series should have ended a while back. Ditto The Paradise and Dowton Abby. I don’t like soap operas. At least the producers had the good sense to end Waiting for God before it lost its appeal.

      Stephanie Cole was also in a Poirot episode, Momento Mori, and the Open All Hours series. She had small parts in a couple of movies too. Been a fan for years. Graham Crowden (Tom) died last year.


  6. Very interested in hearing about the seminar. We love our bicoastal life right now but remain aware that we won’t be able to do this forever. For one thing, both places where we spend most of our time are nowhere near public transportation. As soon as we’re not comfortable with driving (or just before we reach that point, ideally) we will need a change. Hope it continues to be a (relatively) distant worry for another few years.

    I was preparing to ask you if you linked to ElderBlogger and as I scrolled down to the comment form I see that you do. I’m glad.


    • David still drives, but he hates it. I began driving again when the doc cleared me two weeks ago. We live near mass transportation and take a taxi when we go downtown. As Harvey’s mom in Waiting for God says, you won’t catch me living beyond the end of a tube line.

      I would think you had some kind of transportation in FL?


    • The spare parts for the human body have a shorter life expectancy than our original parts. The ‘original’ hip joint replaced last fall worked for over 70 years, the replacement part has an expectancy of 15 years…why it is wise to put off joint replacement as long as you can.


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