92nd Birthdays

My grandma turned 92 today. I think this means that, despite her somewhat poor health, she has lived longer than anyone in her family ever has.

My family celebrated today with a pretty average, low sodium, cooked-at-home lunch, followed by some cake. We bust out the Martinelli’s sparkling  cider for the occasion, which Grandma loves (but really, who doesn’t?). It was just her three surviving kids, her daughter-in-law, and awesome granddaughter (me, obviously — I’m the one who brought her cake). Simple times when Grandma can’t really get out of the house anymore.

It’s strange being around Grandma at this stage of her life. While I’m just starting to forge my own way into the world, she’s reached the end of her productive years. She’s not the most optimistic person in the world, and these days she latches on to the negative things that are happening to her (like… well, everything about aging). She’s frustrated with all the things she can’t do anymore. She obsesses over the missed opportunities from decades ago, and the people who prevented her from having them. Today, she didn’t even feel like smiling for the pictures, and she put up a big fight over taking her afternoon medications (though she does that every day).

So what does it mean to age well in the 21st century? Modern medicine has prolonged human life far beyond the average lifespan 92 years ago when Grandma was born. We can keep our loved ones alive, healthy, and relatively self-sufficient. With the chance for emergencies kept to a minimum, we can live comfortably beside them without as much worry and panic — but to what end?

My grandma can’t walk outside and enjoy the sunshine, her vegetable garden, or the birds flying by anymore. She can’t hear well enough to really listen to mealtime conversations, much less participate in them. She can’t cook for her children and grandchildren. Her eyes get tired when she reads. She’s bored of all the Chinese soap operas, kung-fu shows, and nature documentaries my dad dug up from the public library to have her watch. All she’s really doing now is waiting — dreading death and what might come next, but dreading each day in gradually equalling measure.

I suppose all we can do now is help her find pleasure in her simple days, as fleeting as it may be.

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And boy did she enjoy that cake!

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