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Tales from the Tribe

Growing Old is Not for Sissies

by Joan "Grandy" Leader
 ∙ Aug 23 ∙ 6 Min Read

Art Linkletter was a Radio and TV personality in the 60’s and 70’s, who once wrote a book called “Getting Old is Not for Sissies.”  When I first saw it, I laughed at the thought. But time passes quickly and one day last May, my husband Jerry and I woke up and realized, we’re not really as young as we feel anymore.

Married for almost 59 years, it’s been a really good ride. It hasn’t always been easy raising our daughters, with its myriad of emotions and behaviors. When asked if either of us ever considered divorce, while we each may have toyed with the idea (who hasn’t?), we had one iron-clad rule: he/she who left had to take the kids! So here we are…

So many stories and magical memories but despite the dates on our birth certificates, we never felt OLD! I just hit 80 but don’t feel a day over 60. Jerry? He’s 87, and one tough cookie. The all-around king of his very own castle, with the stubborn grit of an athlete, this spry guy almost shoots his age on the golf course. He’s still consulting at a large firm and checks his stocks on his iPhone a minimum of ten times each day. To see Jerry toodling around town in his white convertible, he could easily pass for 65.

That’s why we didn’t “get it” when our good friend and physician told us (many times) that “at this age, a fall is a life-altering experience.”

One evening a few months ago, I stepped out of the shower to find my hubby lifting a reclining chair, heading down the stairs of our two-story home. Thinking (stupidly) it was easier to help him than argue with him, I jumped in to assist.  We had almost completed this ridiculous task when Jerry slipped, fell backwards down two steps and landed with the chair on top of him. My heart stopped.

When I saw Jerry lying helplessly on his back, I knew he was hurt, but had no idea he had broken his femur (by most accounts, the strongest bone in the body). I never saw him so vulnerable.

I have been tested many times in my lifetime, but I knew this one was a “biggie.” I called our daughter, Jodi, first and then I phoned our neighbor who immediately dialed 911.
Jodi and I followed the ambulance to the ER and though it was a short ride to the hospital, my brain had plenty of time to do a number on me. To kick myself for allowing this to happen and to worry some more. I tried deep breathing as I struggled to remember some of the tools I had learned at Campowerment. I knew I needed to be strong and resilient.  But how to apply that all now? It was a long, difficult night in the ER and many hours until Jerry was finally moved into a room. Surgery the next morning included inserting a rod in his leg.  All the while, everyone thought I was calm. (I wasn’t.)
For ten days, I sat by my hubby’s side in the hospital wondering how our lives would change. Would my rock solid partner ever regain his independence? What about his twice-a-week golf games? When we retired, I told Jerry I married him for better or worse, but not for lunch.  Was  I about to  become his caregiver? Even as he steadily improved, these questions haunted me. I was scared and tried to meditate…to no avail. I kept reminding myself to take care of ME through all this (‘cause if I don’t, no one else will), and started going to the hospital later and later each day, after I had a chance to fill up my own cup. Another Campowerment takeaway. This enabled me to walk in steadfast and strong, there fully to support my Jerry no matter what the day would bring.

After three weeks, with our patient in a wheelchair, we headed to Jodi’s home, where there’s a bedroom downstairs. When we moved into our place 20 years ago, we didn’t think we’d ever be too old to climb stairs. (Oh well.) With Jodi’s incredible help and live from our supportive community of family and friends, we trudged through it, from wheelchair to walker to cane, back to independence.

Every day of life — mine, yours, all of ours — is a learning experience, and even at my advanced age, I’m still gathering lots of worthwhile knowledge. So much of it has come from my involvement with Campowerment and the lessons I’ve learned there, be it through Experts or the thousands of inspiring women I have come to know. I remind myself each day that before I can be all things to Jerry, who needs me more than ever, I’ve gotta take care of me. Every single day — whether through Pilates class, a stroll through the neighborhood, quality time with my girl friends, or a few minutes to just chill.

This journey has not been an easy one, but we feel truly blessed by the wonderful progress that Jerry’s making.

My role as Primary Care Giver is diminishing each day, because Jerry’s a fighter and pushing through the obstacles to put this all behind him. But life for me is different now. I’m not sure I’ll ever return to the happy-go-lucky, everything-is-close-to-perfect person I was before May 3rd. Three months later, I finally get what the doctor meant about how one fall can change everything.

So, I can confirm: getting old is NOT for sissies, but just as we worked through difficult times in our marriage, we are plowing through this time together, readjusting so we can be grateful for this new normal, looking head-on into the mirror at our own mortality, yet refusing to give in to it.

We celebrate each day now with even more gusto (calling Jodi or the neighbors when furniture needs to be moved) because we have an incredible life, and we have each other! And as we get older, we’re not so worried about the memory lapses and the weekly switching out of the hearing aid batteries anymore.  We’ve still got lotsa life left in us, and now we finally understand when people say “youth is wasted on the young.” Let’s none of us let it be 😉 Spread the word.

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Way-Fun Fact #23
When women register for our camp retreat experiences, Joan “Grandy” Leader (our Good Will Ambassador) welcomes them home with a personal phone call.