Saturday, August 23, 2008

Old Age

How do you do justice writing about your parents? I can't do it here, but I can still share a few thoughts on aging...using my Dad as my subject.

In recent months, I drove from Texas to Fort Smith to visit my Dad in the hospital, where he had been taken after suffering a fall, at his home, which fractured one of his hips. As I entered the room, he was sitting on the side of the bed...his head down...oxygen tubes over his ears and feeding his nostrils...and eyes closed. I saw in that instant how aging can bring down the toughest of individuals. In Dad's case, of course, it wasn't necessarily his age that was sucking his strength, but his age had a lot to do with it.

Many of you readers have some knowledge of my Dad. You probably remember him most for the many years that he served the U.S. Postal Service and the residents of Heavener (and eventually, the surrounding area) as their mail carrier. I can't tell you the exact number of years he did this or that, but I can tell you that it was 'many'. For the longest time, Dad was the main man who delivered, on foot, all of the local addresses in town...West side, East side, and downtown businesses. He mainly carried all of the mail in the leather bag that he carried draped over one shoulder. He would eventually build himself a cart that he would push ahead of him. This increased his capacity and was especially handy during the Christmas holidays when mailings increased drastically.

I could bore you to death with memories of Dad and some of the stories he would bring home to the dinner table at night, but I won't. Suffice it to say that Dad was a true professional when it came to his civil service job. Back then, Dad wouldn't leave the house without a clean uniform on...with TIE and cap. When he returned at the end of his day, he would be soaking wet with sweat (in the summer months...and sometimes, even in the winter).

Eventually, Dad gave up the walking and moved to delivering mail to the rural areas around Heavener and the surrounding communities in his car (or truck). Before he retired, he delivered rural service out of the Howe Post Office.

The Post Office work was his main job, but he had many others. [I do have a reason for all of this background bare with me] Without elaborating, before the Post Office job, Dad worked in the coal mines North of town. Also, while employed at the Post Office, Dad also worked part-time in the evenings and weekends for the Otasco store, installing TV antennas, air conditioners, water-coolers (swamp coolers), and other appliances. He also found time to help his father-in-law build houses (including two of his own), stay active in Church activities, and keep our home and yard maintained. In his 'free' time, he would spend time with his family. In other words, he was a busy, busy man all of his working life.

I said all that to say this: Dad was always active. He gave 100% at anything he tried. Because he was so active, he was always a pretty strong guy. In the service, Dad was a boxer with a commendable record. He rarely had any medical problems that prevented him from doing anything he wanted to do. But that was then, and this is now...

In the past 20 years since retirement, Dad has suffered with bad knees (a condition most certainly caused by the 100's of miles he walked that daily mail route, carrying that bag. He's had one knee replaced, he's had surgery on his rotator cuffs, he's been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and most recently, he's had his left hip replaced.

After losing his wife (my Mom), Dad's view of life changed. He no longer has that sparkle in his eye that he had for so many years, he has no interest in trying to learn anything new, but that isn't to say that he's tired of living. He's not ready to throw in the towel just yet. He occasionally speaks of making it to 100, a goal that's only 11 years away this October. But obstacles such as his current situation (still weeks away from recovering from the hip surgery), has dampened his spirits. There's no doubt about that. At this point in his life, the smallest task requires a great deal of his energy. Moving from his bedroom to the kitchen is a major trek. Just eating a meal is sometimes trying for him. But, he's hoping that his strength will return when he's able to move a little easier.

Dad has told me many times in the past...especially when Mom was laying motionless in her bed for years...that he prayed that God would just allow him to stay here long enough to take care of her. That goal was reached. Mom passed away earlier this year.

So here's my observation of old Dad is almost 89 (on 10/3). I consider that an old age. My Mom was 86 when she died. She was in her old age. As many of you can relate, we're rapidly approaching that age, as well. I can no longer, in clear conscience, say that I'm 'middle-aged'. The facts are clear...65 is not the 'middle' of a normal life. So, I'm over the hill and there's no denying that.

When I consider the facts that I've shared above, I can certainly agree that old age has some down sides. My Dad is not enjoying his life very much right now. But many of you probably know family and friends who are older than my Dad that are still going relatively strong. So it's the 'luck-of-the-draw', so to speak, without getting too religious about it. I feel lucky that I've reached 65 (almost)...because many of my past friends didn't. One glance at the obituary page in any newspaper proves that there have been many people that didn't enjoy life as long as we have. Many only half as long...some even less. I'm sure that if any of those people were asked on their death-bed, "would you like to live longer", the overwhelming answer would be "yes"!

I'm happy for my dad that he's reached 89. I'm also happy that I've reached 65. I thank God daily for that gift. So, whether we consider old age as being 65, 75, 85, 105, or somewhere in-between, be glad that you're there. I am.


At August 24, 2008 at 7:21 AM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...


Glad to have you back blogging.

Your account of your father's aging is touching. Each of us, if we are fortunate enough to live a long life, will face the diminishment of stamina and skills that accompanies "old age". While the old adage "you're only as old as you feel" is just that---an adage, there is a measure of truth in it. I just turned 67 and am just about recovered from two surgeries in a three week period, but I think and believe that I can still do useful things by the providence of God.

So, all you out there of my generation--don't give up! A wise man once told me that there are only two human activities worth doing--learning and teaching. I had rather be learning but I will also use my experiences to teach others. In that activity lies the true legacy of each of us


At August 24, 2008 at 11:55 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck, It's good to see your name when I open the blogs. I remember very well your dad on his mail route. I didn't realize he used to deliver for the Howe post office. I hope he's doing better. It's always good to see you and Maureen now that you're in our 'neck of the woods.'

At September 26, 2008 at 1:38 PM , Blogger Bill Hinds said...

Hi Chuck,
I certainly remember your Dad and him delivering the mail. I don't think I ever saw him idle.

Your description of aging is certainly something we all can identify with. I will be 69 in November.
I have had rotator cuff surgury on both sholders, colon cancer (rectal)and now wear "the bag". I have arthritis in my knees and feet. But God has blessed me and I still move quite well I even cut firewood. We have lots of oak trees in the woods behind our house and I cut wood as long as the weather will allow it.

I will pray for your Dad - God Bless - Bill H


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