The invitation was unexpected, and accepted at once. It was a new idea to move out of my condo and into the home of my daughter, son-in-law and grandkids. After decades of filling attics and storage cabinets, adding to bookshelves in room after room and finally in the garage, it was time to dismantle, downsize, dismiss, cancel and subtract. Ask anybody who’s done it and they’ll tell you the results can be surprising, like swinging a hammer at the flat head of a nail and hitting a fingernail instead. There’s pain and immoderate language.
Elderly people, especially those diagnosed with diseases that do not yet have a cure, often plan for simpler lifestyles. That may begin with extra space in the garage because driving a car is over. Life is said to be simpler without driving to the supermarket, church, doctor’s office, movies, post office or whatever. It is good luck to have numerous relatives and friends who like to drive their relatives and friends.
Progressive diseases are not uncommon in what preachers, comedians and manufacturers of wheelchairs call the golden years. It is said that elderly people sometimes are like children to their own adult children. But children grow and become more active, more independent.
For many elderly there are times of planning to give up the house with the extra bedrooms, and move into a condo. Plans are made for life in a retirement center, or with family, or maybe in a nursing home. Each of these moves is likely to be constricting, a tightening of belts, books, television sets and furniture. Each works best when it doesn’t just happen, but is anticipated.
So it is a sign of more or less normal mental health and self-awareness for someone past 90, with a disease the textbooks call incurable, to think how to make the most of changes ahead. If a person eventually has to spend most of the time in bed, what few things should be at hand? For me that would include the latest version of Amazon’s Kindle/Fire, which is a hand-held library of books, movies and TV shows, plus email and other electronic treats. In my greed I’d want to have a laptop computer as well.
All kind of fun and all kinds of sorrow pass through our brains on their way to showing up as a smile, a smell, a flavor, a tear, a sound. One reason prayer means so much is that it kindles love and tilts the brain toward the smiling side. My brain is shrinking, my doc says, and my wristwatch hanging loosely says that my arm is shrinking, too. Shrinking brains and shrinking arms need exercise, and exercising even a leaky brain can be even more fun than flexing skinny wrists.
Suppose something about a disease rules out the ordinary use of fingers to strike keys and buttons? Suppose talking becomes difficult or impossible, and swallowing a struggle? Thinking ahead ought to be an adventure, a stretching of the imagination. Finding out how others have handled the same issues offers satisfaction to the planner and those who embrace the planner. It doesn’t hurt to consider the original Planner, the Eternal, who alone knows what it all means.