Earlier this year our band, Bayview Sound, was invited to perform at the Friday afternoon Happy Hour at a local assisted living facility in Freeland. I've had several folks from the congregation in residence at Maple Ridge over the years and appreciate the beautiful facility, the kind staff, and the good cheer of most of the residents.
It reminded me a bit of Canterbury Inn, the assisted living facility in Longview WA where my mom lived for several years; I had the pleasure of visiting her there many times, getting acquainted with her friends there, and meeting the staff. She was happy there and well cared for, her multiple health difficulties receiving the treatment they required.
Our first performance at Maple Ridge was a success and we have been invited back several times. We have enjoyed this gig so much that we asked the folks at CareAge, a nursing home in Coupeville, if they were interested in our performing for them, and we have been to CareAge several times as well this year.
CareAge is a facility for aged residents with very limited mobility and dementia/brain injury patients. I have had parishioners in residence at CareAge in the past and was pleased with the standard of care they received. Maple Ridge is a facility for people who can still live more or less independently, with minimal care, though they may have limited mobility and may be experiencing some memory loss.
What I've noticed is that as humans age, we seem to become more intensely the person we have learned to be over our lifetimes. If life has been harsh, if we have been unhappy or angry much of our lives, we are even more unhappy and angry as our abilities decline and our circle of friends diminishes. If life has been harsh, if we have been ill-treated much of our lives but have had a few experiences that give us hope, we seem to have a less-angry, somewhat happier approach to old age and the losses we experience.
If life has been privileged and cushy, if our demands have been treated with deference and compliance, we continue to expect that this will continue and, because of the nature of aging and its demands on our resources, we are apt to be fretful, angry, depressed, and hard to get along with as we age. If we have had any life at all---harsh, loving, privileged, whatever---we face old age with certain ingrained behaviors that can make our last years miserable or fulfilling.
I've been wondering how the sweet-natured folks I've been meeting at CareAge and Maple Ridge have come to this place in life: a joy to serve, a pleasure in conversation, a blessing rather than a burden. And I've been wondering how the grouchy folks at these facilties came to be so grouchy: demanding, difficult to satisfy, always unhappy, repellant rather than inviting.
Pain, of course, is a factor. So are loss of hearing and sight and memory and mobility. Many physical discomforts can make us frantic, begging for relief, but these discomforts are borne by some with equanimity, even good cheer and hope. For others, it's just too much to overcome.
Staff personnel treat everyone with the same good care and attention, to the best of their ability. But who could blame them for being impatient on occasion, for being slow to answer the incessant buzzer from the same room over and over. We ourselves would doubtless struggle with these situations.
Is there anything we can do to learn the art of growing old, to ingrain those traits that will make our old age happier, and to let go of the traits that will surely diminish our ability to enjoy the life we have left?
I figure I have 15-20 years left. I've been working on the physical health piece now for quite awhile. I still have some aches and pains but I'm in pretty good shape otherwise. Mentally, the crossword puzzles and jumbles and quizzes that I'm addicted to are keeping my brain working, more or less. But spiritually? attitudinally? I'm still thinking about how these may be affected by aging.