Watching Someone Get Old is Hard

growing old grocery shoppingWatching someone get old and prepare to die is hard. It’s really hard. And sad. And quiet. The inability to fight the inevitable end sometimes makes me cry in the shower. Not for myself, but for my friend Esther. Not for me, but for Esther’s son.

For four years, twice a month, I have gone grocery shopping with Esther. And in that space between comfortable but not too familiar, I have watched her sight grow more dim, her hearing fade, her steps falter and slow. At just shy of ninety years old, she is grateful for outings to ShopRite and church. She tells the same stories about the golf course that’s now apartment buildings, the house with a porch where she spent her happiest years, the pet squirrel she had as a child. I listen, ask questions, respond.

Esther and I have had spirited conversations about who cut her food stamps from $120 to $38 per month over the four years I’ve shopped with her. To her, it’s Obama. In her head, the President is also responsible for her husband’s pension plan dropping her additional health coverage – long before current changes were passed. When she complains about people dependent on welfare, I gently point out that her son is on disability, and that she receives benefits. When she says the Affordable Care Act (That Obamacare!) will be a failure because the government runs it, I point out that she relies on Medicare, which is run by the government. In other words, she’s no quiet, reticent old lady. And she likes that I don’t just nod and smile. Although, she now says, “Well, I won’t blame it on Obama because I know how you get.” Spunk, I tell you.

Even so, she’s more forgetful than she was four years ago. She’ll ask three times about getting the cat food, even after we’ve counted out the 20 cans of shreds, not flakes. She searches desperately, unsuccessfully, for phrases like facial tissues and tomatoes on the vine, while in the next breath she corrects my pronunciation of mozzarella and ricotta. We laugh at ourselves and each other. She embarrasses me with her gratitude. And yes, I lose my patience with her, but never to her face. Never so she sees.

Esther says that I am an angel sent from heaven, and I tell her I’m making up for past sins. She laughs and pats my arm and says, “Oh no, you’re an angel.”

The truth is, I’m far from my father. Too far to help him with outings and day-to-day tasks. Too far to notice the alterations that growing older is heaping upon him. Helping Esther is my chosen method of trying to Pay it Forward. My way of thanking others for kindnesses given to my father.

Watching Esther get old and prepare to die is hard. It’s slow and sad. It makes me cry in the shower because I can’t make old age give back a clear head and a healthy body. Not to Esther. Not to my father. Not to anyone.

Hooking up with the moonshine grid at yeah write.
Featured on Schmutzie’s Five Star Friday brought to you by Gabriel García Márquez.

About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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18 Responses to Watching Someone Get Old is Hard

  1. Martha B says:

    This is a truly powerful post. I struggle with watching my loved ones age, and knowing it’s a natural process. Thank you for this awesome essay.

    • Thank you for your comment. Acceptance is a struggle between emotion and rationality. I’ve found that I have to get there to help make the process more bearable and full of joy in life for others.

  2. outlawmama says:

    Can’t say much here b/c I am crying too hard and my fucking finger is bleeding. But this is gorgeous. I hate how quiet dying is.

  3. I’m sorry about Esther. It really is so hard.

  4. Marcy L says:

    This is beautiful, and you should feel very proud for the kindness you are showing. I am glad you set her straight on Obama, though 😉

  5. David says:

    You may not be an angel, but you are doing the work of angels. What you witness, and bear — that’s the work. My father was far from me as well, and I’m forever grateful to the people who could be close to him, who did the work you’re doing.

  6. This is incredibly powerful. Watching someone grow older is hard, and I can only imagine how much harder it is for the person doing the aging. I also love how you can banter about divisive topics like that. 😉

    • Part of what keeps me going is the thought of how terrifying and frustrating having your body give out on you must be. Three hours every couple of weeks isn’t much of a sacrifice compared to that.

      Thanks for the compliment!

  7. anna says:

    This post is so great because we get to know Esther as a person, and not as just a quiet old lady. She’s lucky to have you as a store shopping companion, and I’m glad she knows to watch the Obama talk around you!

  8. Stacie says:

    Very touching and also sad. I think you ARE an angel.

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