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From the mouths of octogenarians

by Sabrina Hornung | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Editorial | May 16th, 2018

The tin man of Edgeley - photograph by Sabrina HornungTime and aging is weird. It flies, it fleets, it stands still and all too often it passes us by. I lose track of time too easily and it seems like when the years meld themselves together I’m reminded how much has gone by once I see my friends’ children. Instead of thinking, “Oh, that was only five years ago,” I realize that that is an entire lifetime for a Kindergartner.

My little sister was born right before my Freshman year in high school, I remember thinking to myself how old I was going to be when she graduated, 32, man, I couldn’t even fathom it. I’d probably be too old for rock and roll and become fat and complacent. At close to 34, I’m learning to come to terms with my thirty-something metabolism, aside from that I’m trying to avoid all of those things. Though sometimes I do find myself scowling at noisy college kids in the bar for no good reason.

I do think a scowl is well warranted when kids around the same age look confused when I ask for a phone book or map at any given service station. I fully admit I don’t know how to use GPS, maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve been spending so much time with octogenarians. I’ve been learning a lot from them, whether it’s weekly visits with my own grandparents or among those that I’ve been working with at a couple of different elder care facilities in central Dakota. Part of the project that we’ve been working on in those facilities involves art and story sharing as well as an occasional snack. Needless to say all of my favorite things are involved as well as a lot of food for thought.

I’ve learned that we need to hold onto our memories and loved ones because we won’t always have them. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow but they’ll all start to slip away in time. Sometimes stories are repeated so they won’t be forgotten. There’s the old proverb that a person dies twice. Once when they breathe their last breath and the second is the last time their name is uttered.

I’ve learned that we need to be thankful and mindful of our mobility. I visited my grandfather on his 86th birthday. He was in his workshop fixing up one of his scooters and mentioned how tough it is to rely on wheels to get around. This coming from a once active outdoorsman, who’s ears still perk up around deer season. Another gentleman was nursing a broken hip and was going through his daily therapy routine. Part of his therapy was “relearning how to sit in a chair without missing it.” He said he never thought he’d have to relearn something he never really had to think about.

I’ve learned that we need to learn that it’s ok to lean on each other and to ask for help and we need to be good neighbors, just in case either of us find ourselves in a pinch. It’s good to be self reliant but no one can be an island. You’ll just end up stranded.

When I was a kid I always thought that the elders surrounding me had always been old, as I age I finally came to realize that this is my first time as a young (now almost middle aged) adult and this is the elders first time as elders. We’re all learning as we go and we need to help each other out on the way and share our experiences. As we worked on our “Tree of life” project in these elder care facilities we came up with the phrase, “There’s no rules in the tree of life.”

Age really is a number so why hide it? The more years you have under your belt means the more life you get to experience. I had a great grandmother who was unsure whether she was born in 1914 or 1915, she chose 1914 because she knew she’d be a year closer to getting social security.

There’s some truth to consciously eating your vegetables. One gentleman that I met while working at the Vets Club is one of the oldest veterans in Stutsman county at 102 years old. He was interviewed by the Jamestown Sun for his 100th birthday. When asked what led to his longevity, he attributed it to eating plenty of vegetables.

A few women agreed that the secret to a successful marriage was to not go to bed mad. Anger only festers and poisons your thoughts and perceptions.

Sometimes small gestures mean the world to someone, whether it’s a fleeting conversation or going out of your way to pick up a pack of gum for someone. Weekly outings and short drives are good for everyone.

Men and women alike fondly remembered their school days and had warm memories of their little country schools. Children in grades 1-8 learned side by side, here they learned to be mindful of one another and learned to relate with varied age groups. One woman told me that she went door to door in her hometown to find a sponsor so she could go to high school. She eventually worked as a maid for a well-to-do family and was still thankful for the opportunity more than 50 years later.

Overall the general consensus was, “It’s hell to get old.” So maybe we’ll have to raise a little hell before we can’t anymore.

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