Traveling the last miles alone

Posted 8/5/18

I have an elderly neighbor who is going through some changes in his life. Before he lost his wife a few years ago, they kept the roads hot. The loss of his wife took the wind out of his sails, as the …

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Traveling the last miles alone

Posted

I have an elderly neighbor who is going through some changes in his life. Before he lost his wife a few years ago, they kept the roads hot. The loss of his wife took the wind out of his sails, as the old saying goes.

These days he spends his time in his recliner with the TV tuned to the channel that shows Westerns 24/7. On days when the temperature is bearable, he sits in a swing in the shade of a hickory tree in his front yard. It’s a good place to watch life go by.

His only family is a daughter who lives in Texas. He doesn’t talk to her much these days. She knows his health is declining and a while back she tried to convince him to move into an assisted living facility nearby. “There will be people your age there, and the staff can help you keep up with your medicine,” she reasoned. 

His pride and a stubborn streak as wide as the Mississippi made him resistant to the point of harsh words. Since then his phone does not ring as often as it did before the spat. He told me this recently as I sat with him on his creaking swing. 

He has two older dogs that are always by his side. He pointed to the nearest one and said, “I could never leave my dogs. They are the only family I have here now,” he said. 

He pointed out correctly that the assisted living places wouldn’t let him keep his dogs. 

I could tell he was down. 

The next day, I sent his daughter a text and told her about my visit. I asked if she’d like to talk to him if he was agreeable. She was thrilled because she’d been trying to call him for weeks, but there was no answer. She assumed he was still angry with her. 

When I walked over there, he was in his living room watching "Gunsmoke." The volume was loud enough to rattle glasses on his coffee table. I asked if he wanted to walk outside for a moment. 

Once outside, I told him his daughter had been trying to call him. He looked surprised. When I looked at his phone, his ringer was set on silence. His old phone had died a few weeks earlier, and he hadn’t figured out how to make the new one ring. 

Pulling out my phone, I dialed his daughter’s number and put the call on the speaker. When he heard her voice, he beamed. “Hey baby, how you doin’?” It was like they had never quarreled. 

He smiled as the call ended and sat up a little straighter in the swing. 

I know the call was just a reprieve. There is no getting around the fact that age is robbing him of his health, his hearing and his mental acuity. At some point in the near future, hard decisions will have to be made. 

There are no manuals for aging. There are plenty of books and talking heads on the TV that can offer advice, but people have to travel the last few miles of their life journey alone. 

Many of us will take those steps if we live long enough. 

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, "Life Goes On," is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@rickwatson-writer.com.