Week 7: A Conversation on the Spirit of Aging: Bingo at Care One
“What age would guess you are, if you did not know how old you really are?”
I was cleaning up the last of the BINGO chips and getting ready to guide Betty* back to her room in her wheelchair. I looked up from the Ziploc bags when she asked this.
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe mid-30’s?” I replied.
“Me too. But with a little less hearing and a lot more daily aches and pains.” Betty said with a smile.
“What do you like most about your age?” I asked her.
“No one’s ever asked me that,” she said. After a long pause she replied, “Curiosity.”
That was not a word I expected to hear.
I was at ‘Care One at Madison Avenue’ in Morristown – a residential and rehabilitation facility that offers high-quality care and services including assisted living, memory care, respite care and sub-acute rehabilitation. 3 of us had volunteered through JerseyCares.org to run BINGO for the residents. My fellow volunteers had already left the activity room to transport a few of the residents back to their rooms. Betty and I and two other residents had stayed behind. Betty was in her 80s and had been at the center for many months, rehabilitating from surgery. She was due to be released in a few days.
“When I was a little girl, no one expected anything of me except to enjoy life and have fun,” Betty continued. “I could be as creative as I wanted and no one told me things were impossible. I was not pressured with responsibilities…” She paused then said, “Old age becomes like that.”
I thought about that for a minute then asked Betty if, when she was younger, she’d thought much about getting old.
She chuckled, “I’d always been afraid of getting old. But as the years passed I realized there are obstacles to overcome at any age. Fears and hardships and losses and death are not relegated to the old.”
We sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the rerun of an episode of M*A*S*H that was on the television. Then Betty said, “Aging surprises you. You lose your hearing and balance and energy, but it happens so gradually you don’t even realize it. Until one day it pops into your awareness that you’ve got daily aches and pains and you can’t read regular sized books and you need naps.”
We continued to talk for a while then I asked her why she’d chosen the word ‘curiosity’ earlier.
“When you’re a child you’re naturally curious, but life drags that out of you. That sense of wonder escapes as you grow up because you’re too busy trying to get by and doing too many things. But I’m old. I don’t have to multitask. That leaves space for curiosity. I’m just as curious now as ever. I’m free to explore how my life experiences brought me here. And I keep finding surprises. The future is scary but you can’t stop the inevitability of it, so I’m curious about what life means. I may not know what’s going to happen but I’m finding an acceptance about that unknown. That I just need to let the journey unfold.”
Getting old is unchartered territory for everyone. The experience is unique to each of us. When thinking about what to write for this week I bounced between promoting JerseyCares.org as a way to connect volunteer-minded people with opportunities in their area, and highlighting the facts around the aging of America and the need for special services for this population. While both of these messages are very important, I kept coming back to my scribbly, almost illegible notes from my conversation with Betty. The lens with which she viewed growing old really struck a chord in my heart. So that’s what I decided to share with you today…. Her wonderful spirit of aging.
* I changed Betty’s name for anonymity
Interested in connecting with local charities or volunteering for local events? Check out http://www.jerseycares.org/