Fighting Decrepitude

As I get into my 30s, the older people in my life are getting to be really old. My grandmothers are now in their 80s and my parents in their 60s. They’re starting to reach that age where things are starting to fire a bit less precisely than they did once upon a time.

My mom’s mom in particular seems to be getting to a point where her perceptions really can’t be trusted. I didn’t really understand the extent of things and postponed a visit by a day when I was at home. I was under a deadline and though it was a pain, I thought she could adapt.

Apparently the stress of it was a bit much and she ended up calling the police because she thought there were people in the attic of her house. When the sheriff came out couldn’t find anything, she was convinced they’d sneaked into the basement.

It seems almost comical except that she really believes it and is genuinely upset at the people sneaking around her house. She is reconstructing her world and understandings of her relationships with the people in her life to bring consistency to her worldview. So not only is she scared and upset, it is dividing her from the people who care for her because she is convinced they’re in on the conspiracy.

It is really changing the perspective that I have on aging to see how it plays out.

What I find really frustrating is that the fundamental error that seems to underlie so many of the problems is certainty. My grandma’s trust in her perceptions she is the basis for a huge amount of emotional turmoil and strife in her life. The attitude by my family is that this is like having a cold. She is simply sick and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

At this point, I don’t think that there is much that can be done about it. The patterns of how she treats her own thoughts has been set by years of conditioning. Had she been raised to distrust her perceptions and assumptions, would it be simpler to convince her now to not accept everything that she perceives?

Not to judge her life. She raised four kids largely by herself deep in the hills of Virginia. Uncertainty and second guessing were perhaps not things she had the luxury of. I believe that empirically she lived the best life that she could have.

My grandma is who she is and it’s not likely she’s going to change very much. Other people in my family though don’t have their patterns quite so set yet.

It’s my dad that I worry the most about. I really wish he’d quit his job. He works for a conservative political action committee and I think he’s losing sight of the fact that the politics he takes part in is a contrived game. I don’t like many of his positions, but more than that it is the habit of approaching relationships in terms of an argument to be won.

I just think he might be setting himself up to pay a much higher price than he realizes. I’m still struggling to find that balance between trying to point out the long term consequences of his lifestyle and respecting his authority. I’m still not really sure where that balance lies yet.

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings…

As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.

— The Dhammapada

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