RIDING IT OUT – Marilyn Armstrong

For almost two years, I’ve barely used the chair lift. I was glad it was there and it was useful for hauling groceries and suitcases upstairs and that was good for both of us. But lately, I’ve started using it. I realized there was absolutely nothing to be gained by dragging myself up two staircases, gasping, wheezing, with heart pounding.

Although I can —  and do — get up and down the stairs, it’s slow and getting slower. It’s more than a bit nerve-wracking too. It takes me a while to take that first downward step (up is easier) and I’m always sure I’m going to fall. I have fallen a lot over the years, including when I was younger. I can’t seem to find my balance going down.

One step at a time and carrying packages, stairs are impossible and dangerous. Riding up and down the stairs takes the fear and pain out of the process of getting in and out of the house. I’m okay walking on the sidewalk and the floors, but the stairs put such a strain on my lower spine and hips, I went from feeling okay to feeling ready to collapse.

It was time to actually use the chair lift.

Not only is it a way to get upstairs not on my feet, but it ‘s also possible to get someone in a wheelchair into the house and up to our living level. Before that, we’ve had to tell anyone with disabilities that our house was unready for them.

I reached the end of assuming that I’m going to get better and the stairs won’t be as difficult. Asthma is worse, probably because it’s untreated and my spine is worse, especially at the S1 juncture which was never fused — unlike the three discs above it. The pressure on the spinal cord is serious and unlikely to improve. There’s no exercise that will improve it.

It’s my final nod to the realities of my life, the “giving in” to the pain as something that won’t get better. The new drugs I’m taking help quite a bit — as long as I walk on relatively flat ground. I can climb a little bit if I am very careful. I can cook and clean in the house and if the ground is not rough, I’m mobile. To a point.

When I’m tired, I have to take it seriously. I need to stop and rest. When I do that, I don’t fall apart and I stay reasonably well. No amount of goodwill, determination, or optimism will change the condition of my spine. I think not hauling myself up and downstairs will probably marginally improve my mobility.

I cannot begin to tell you how much this isn’t what I envisioned for my life as a senior. I was planning to be a dashing senior. Like in the movies. Gray and wise, but ready to do it all.

Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. I wanted to force myself to be that snazzy senior I imagined. Overall, I think it’s better if I stay alive and able to move!

WHY I WAS BUYING A LAMP AT 3 AM – Marilyn Armstrong

And there I was. Amazon. It’s three in the morning and I’m online looking for an inexpensive lamp.  Why? Because Garry managed to fall over getting out of bed.

It was only a matter of time. Because our bedroom is pretty small, there isn’t really room next to his bed for an end table, so he doesn’t have a light he can just reach for so he can see what’s going on. This time, he got all tangled in the thing he uses as an end table (it’s actually a three-legged step-ladder), followed by a solid thump as Garry hit the floor.

Garry’s end of the bed

“Is anything broken?” I asked him.

“No,” he said, limping to the bathroom.

That was it. That man needs a light and someplace he can put the remote control, his glasses, the headphones and a lamp he can turn on with a simple switch. So I bought him a little lamp, much like the one I use — I could have given him the mate to the one I use, but it’s a glow-in-the-dark Snow White lamp and I thought maybe something less girly would be a better “fit.”

My night-light. Garry could have its mate, but I went for something less girlish.

Not that he would really care. He is long past trying to establish his masculinity and has always thought he looked good in pink, especially pink shirts with white collars. And a well done Windsor knot in his tie.

So, in the end, I spent $10 on the lamp, and another $29.75 on two very narrow end tables that should fit into the available space (they are only 13 inches square). It won’t make the room bigger, but at least he can turn on a light and not fall over.

We aren’t getting any younger and a little bruise from twenty years ago feels a  lot bigger today.


Agatha Christie said that if you marry an archaeologist, the older you get, the more interesting he will find you.

It’s a little late for me to marry an archaeologist, but a man who still thinks you are beautiful when every law of your universe tells you that you are not, is even better.

Beauty is not in the eyes of every beholder. Many people don’t find anything older than a 2-year old cell phone beautiful. Not everyone likes to wander the ruins of previous ages or gets teary-eyed while looking at a stone circle. There are many who look at the wilds of the arctic and only see places to drill for oil. They look at cities and imagine a bulldozer taking it down to nothing so they can build again.

None of us expects to get old. We might anticipate maturity. A mellowness, perhaps. A few gray hairs, the odd wrinkle that could still be considered a laugh line. None of us expects to get old and tired, full of aches and pains. No one thinks struggling to climb the stairs or even get up from the sofa is something great, to which we all aspire.

Climb every mountain – Photo: Ben Taylor

A few people will age with few complaints and some lucky ones will continue to have some of the powers of youth. Whenever I see one of these 90+ people who has been waiting his whole life to run a marathon, all I can think is:


Is that “it” for you? Now that you’ve run the distance, what’s next? You going to keep running until your legs crumple under you? If this was your lifelong plan, what waits for you in your future?

I never expected to become ill or too damaged to do the things I’d always managed to do. I was damaged early, but for a long time, I did it — whatever “it” was — anyway. When age and ill-health crept up, I gradually recognized no amount of will or determination was going to make the days of youth return. Age was not a number. Age was a reality and now, a big part of my reality. Age wasn’t going away or even taking a long vacation. But I can live with it. Getting older is not willing yourself to keep doing the same things you did thirty years ago. It’s creatively figuring out what you can do that you will enjoy and will find worth doing.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot of that. Arts and crafts and painting and writing and thinking and talking and learning don’t have to disappear.

Take pictures of – but do NOT forge – every stream.

Dealing with age is not forcing yourself to do the things you did when you were younger. Dealing with age is recognizing what you can’t do and probably should not even try to do … while simultaneously figuring out what you can do. Even when you were more fit, not everything worth doing involved running, strength, speed, or agility. Your brain is part of your body too — and it needs a lot more exercise than you imagine. Even if you can’t remember the name of that person you used to work with — how important is he or she? A lot of the things we forget as we get older weren’t important anyway. For the small stuff, we have lists. Just to be fair, I’ve always needed lists and that included when I was a lot younger!

And have a good gaze at the beauty of the world

As for the people whose names we’ve misplaced? Ted Kennedy, famous for his inability to remember names, used to say to everyone: “Hey, it’s YOU!”

Not being a politician I have a different mode: “Excuse me. I’m sorry, I’ve misplaced your name! It’s an old person thing. Could you remind me?”

Surprisingly, it works. Try it. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life looking at people and not knowing who the hell he or she is? Won’t that make you feel stupid? When they give you their name, but you still have no idea who they are … well … maybe they weren’t all that important. I’ve had people give me their names, what we did together in High School, mutual friends … and I still don’t know who they are. That really is embarrassing.

And yet … life goes on. Go figure, right?


Yesterday, my son called to tell me he’d made a really good deal — if I could manage the cash — for a stair chair lift.

Although I can —  and do — get up and down the stairs, it’s slow and getting slower and more than a little nerve-wracking. I’m not only slow to do it, I live in constant fear of falling. Surprisingly, that’s not a new thing because I have fallen downstairs quite a few times over the years, including when I was a lot younger. There’s something about looking down that makes me just a little bit loopy.

One step at a time and carrying packages, stairs are pretty much impossible. This deal was as good as it was ever going to get — and it looks as if these were never previously installed. I took the deal. Owen says he knows how to install them having recently done a set for a friend. I said it was a “go” — as long as this is something that will happen and not become another thing waiting in the basement for an installation “event” to occur.

The stairs are the opposite of “strutting.” I call it “sitting.” I’m very good at sitting and linguistically, it is similar to strutting, but with the “r” and “u” replaced by an “i.” Maybe, if you say it very quickly, it might sound almost the same.

It is just one unit — for the upper staircase. These will take someone from the front entryway to our living level. I will happily forget about strutting. This is a world-altering event for me and might mean we can continue to live in this house.

Not only is it a way to get upstairs not on our feet, it means it ‘s possible to get someone in a wheelchair into the house. Before that, we’ve had to tell anyone in a wheelchair our house is non-navigable. No entryway without at least 6 steps. The chair can also carry packages, so you can walk up while the chair hauls the boxes, crates, bags, and suitcases.

This is a big win here, though it reduces our limited remaining “savings” to a new low. Regardless, I was would have had to deal with this. Those 6 steps seemed like nothing 18 years ago. They feel a lot steeper these days.

It’s the official end of strutting. Sitting is good. I can sit. I’m a strong sitter. It’s also the final “giving in” to reality thing, the recognition that no amount of good will, determination, or optimism will change the number of stairs. I cannot begin to tell you how much this isn’t what I envisioned for my life as a senior. I was planning to be a dashing senior. Like in the movies. Gray and wise, but still ready to do it all … maybe slower … but otherwise, no problem.

I had no idea how much life would change in the decade following my 60th birthday. We sometimes think one decade is like another, but it turns out … not necessarily. This particular decade has been humbling. And yet — I’m still here and so many others are not. So before I get all maudlin about this, I may need help with stairs, but I’m alive. As far as I can tell, likely to stay that way for a while.

This is huge. Bigger than Trump’s stupid wall and the Mexicans don’t have to contribute a single penny to the project. We’re just winning all over the place!


On a morning like this one, “create” hardly seems relevant. Late to bed and early to rise isn’t a good combination for the most tired amongst us and my lids are heavy with sleep … and the contractors — for whom I rose so early — are not here. Why am I not surprised? Although it isn’t raining — yet — there is a promise of rain later. If they don’t get here soon, the whole process will be deferred until next week. This rain, like so many others this year, will be several days before clearing.

The best sleepers are fully furred … Have you ever met a dog or cat who had insomnia? Me neither.

The tiredness factor plays a much bigger role in creativity these days than ever in the past. One of the big differences that comes with aging is the “limited bounce-back” effect. The younger you are, the more you bounce back from adversity. Tiredness, colds, flu … just about everything. The three-day sniffles of your thirties become the several week-long coughing, sneezing exhaustion of your seventies. It’s not that you don’t recover, but it takes longer. The tiredness you could sleep off in one long night takes a good many nights today. Sleep is less deep and mostly, briefer.

The experts, whoever they are, say we need less sleep as we get older. I don’t doubt their well-researched beliefs, but I have a nearly constant sense that a few good hours of really deep sleep could go a long way towards fixing what ails me.

And with that, while still optimistically awaiting the contractors, I think I’ll get another cup of coffee.


A couple of nights ago, Garry and I watched an HBO show called ‘If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” It was put together by Carl Reiner and it features his gang of over-90 year old friends from show business. Many of them are enjoying what you could only call extraordinarily good health, but not all. It’s a pretty good show and if you get a chance, you should watch it. It’s funny — it’s Carl Reiner with a dollop of Mel Brooks, so why not? But it’s also good sense.

Courtesy: HBO

Listening to these guys talk about getting very old — not just regular old — brought up a lot of consistent themes. All of them were busy. All computer literate. Most of them are writers. All of them felt the quality of their work was as good or better than it had ever been. Many of them said how grateful they were for their computers and being connected … and at least one of them commented that he hoped to die with his fingers on the keyboard.

From left, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear and Carl Reiner in the HBO documentary “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” Credit HBO

There were other commonalities. All of them were healthy eaters. None of them were smokers. If they were ever drinkers, none of them are currently is. All of them exercised as much as life allowed. No one seemed resentful of having to give up fatty or fried food. No one felt that life wouldn’t be worth living if they couldn’t overeat or keep hold of their old bad habits. I got the feeling that most of them hadn’t had all that many bad habits anyway.

And all of them were enthusiastic and excited about life, even though — obviously — all of them had lost many friends and family to death. Because at that age, that’s the way it is. For that matter, at our age, that’s also the way it is.

Courtesy: HBO

It was the energy and enthusiasm which was so striking. And the writing.

I have always thought writing is one of those things that keeps your brain alive and working. When people ask me why I do this — blog — and why I write so often, I just smile. What else would I be doing if not this? What else could I do that would make me feel as involved and alive as writing does?

Young people assume that all very old people must be creaking along, barely able to walk, much less think. Some of us may have trouble walking, but mentally? I don’t think there is a smarter group of people anywhere.



Too much has been written about the angst of aging
And the war against it we’ve recently been waging.
Baby Boomers have made it a major obsession
And a cause for situational depression.
We need to improve the P.R. on getting old,
Increase the positive things about it we’re told,
Help change our youth-oriented system of belief
To understand, our later years can be a relief.

There are many stereotypes and caricatures
That each “senior” hears and silently endures.
But we can turn this to our advantage if we’re smart
And get a free pass if we just “play the part”.
People think getting crotchety is par for the course
So we can be brutally blunt with no remorse.
Being polite and P.C. is hard and frustrating
And saying what we really think is liberating.
Perhaps there is a problem with our “editing chip”
But its fun to open up our mouths and “let her rip!”

It’s easy to joke about memory malfunction
And even laugh at ourselves, with no compunction.
But when we regularly “misplace” our purse and keys,
We’re convinced we have an incurable disease.
But the flip side of this annoying new trait
Is we can use it to get out of things that we hate.
“I forgot” can become our go to, all-purpose phrase
Its success, in most cases, will truly amaze.
“I forgot the: date, time, request”, (fill in the blank)
And “You’re sure you told me?” you can take to the bank.

“I forgot to write it down! Did you need it today?”
Gets sympathy and keeps recriminations at bay.

But after working so long, our retirement years
Can trigger all kinds of anxieties and fears.
The specter of assisted living can be scary
And there are clearly reasons to be a bit wary.
But think – we have our life’s dream in many ways
To live like we did in our college/frat days;
Imagine, to help weather this emotional storm,
That we’re returning to something like a college dorm.
In both we can socialize with those on our floor
But if “busy” we can leave a tie, or sock on our door.
There are programs and classes we can cut or attend,
There is staff (like R.A’s) on whom we can depend.
We get meals, so we don’t have to shop, plan or cook;
Also drugs, though not as good as the ones we once took.

It’s hard to stop being an overachiever
And transition from caregiver to care receiver.
But, again, we can see it as cashing in life’s chits
And focus on the obvious benefits.
The “shoulds” and “have to’s” don’t control us any more
We are less weighted down doing things we abhor.
Our kids worry when they can’t reach us on the phone
And won’t let us spend too much time home alone.
Though you know they’re afraid we’ll be dead on the floor,
Feel the love! The mortality issues – just ignore.
You can get used to all this service and attention,
Not see it as annoying, morbid intervention.

And yet – the saying: “Youth is wasted on the young” is true
And we can also see, from our new point of view,
That retirement could better be savored and enjoyed
With the bodies and minds we had when young and employed!
But whatever crap we deal with, in our hearts we know
It beats being adrift on an Arctic ice floe!