From the Mind in the Old Body

Written by Beverly Walker

(parishioner at St. John’s)

I have been reading books, of late, where at least one of the characters was a woman of 79 years or older. A frail little person, given to sitting in a comfortable chair, probably wrapped in a shawl, and known to nod off in the middle of a conversation. Oh yes, and they are frequently knitting little woollies for great-grandchildren. This personage, generally has all the appearance of someone with, as was the expression in my youth, one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel and is treated accordingly.

Each time I read of one of these persons I have to smile at how gently the book’s author has treated old age. Then it hits me. Whoops! I’ll be 80 next month.

Dear me, I must update my wardrobe. I shall have to trade in my ever so comfortable black jeans for a somewhat baggy black dress with detachable white collar and cuffs. I will certainly have to part with my black boots as they won’t go with the dress. The knitting I am likely to forego as my thumbs are arthritic and my fingers seize up in the occasional cramp. As for nodding off in mid-conversation, I have done that all my life, figuratively if not literally. Now I’ll be able to close my eyes.

So what am I doing today? Well, one of our dogs got me up at 2 this morning to go out. She, I think, suffers from a mild form of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, for each time she goes out into our little courtyard she has these ritual paths she has to inspect with great diligence. A process that takes her a good 20 minutes. With a very genteel bark she signals her desire to return to her bed, or mine, and is let back in. This morning that was the signal for our other dog to go out – although he being a gentleman is quick to find his favourite bush and request a return to his bed.

Why am I mentioning all this – well because it is a quarter of 10 in the morning and I am still up. And I am wondering if I should start growing old, gracefully.

I realise that my body is well past its ‘sell by’ date. It hasn’t crumbled completely yet, but it’s working on it. My problem is, my mind hasn’t caught up with it.

This is a state of affairs that gives me concern for the folk my age or older, who are in care. I wonder how many are being seen as just an old, frail body without it being recognised that that body houses an active mind. Perhaps it is a mind hidden behind failing eyesight or departed hearing, but it’s there none the less.

We don’t need a lot of care. Certainly, there may be essentials that we are no longer able to do – in that we will need assistance. But because we need assistance doesn’t mean that we need to be consigned to some facility where we will be seen as only old bodies. We know that we can still contribute to life, not at the level of a 50-year-old, but contribute none the less. Sometimes with the best intentions, our loved ones convince the mind in the old body, that not only is the body failing but also the mind. With kindness, they make decisions more in keeping with their lives than that of the mind in the old body, until that mind begins to believe its loss and fears life and living.  

So, if you are responsible for the care of an old body, sit down, as with a friend, and get to know the mind in that old body. There is no such thing as second child-hood – the first was generally more than enough – so stop making decisions for the old body until you get to know the mind that lives in it.

If I fall down my cellar stairs and break my neck, bury me in my black jeans, the ones with the rhinestones on the pockets and be sure to include my black boots.

Beverly Walker