Serious content alert. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I weight my post with either cheery or poignant subjects. Today is not one of those days as during the past month there has been a series of unexpected medical issues with some of the older childless couples I know. In these cases, it isn’t only childless; it’s small families with no relatives geographically near. One of the realities of choosing to retire/relocate to somewhere like South Florida is distance. Yes, leaving the cold of the Northeast, Midwest, etc., does mean much better weather (setting aside the problem of hurricanes), but it is also a very long way from family that may not have moved. That tends not to seem important other than the price one often pays for holiday travel. And initially, it probably isn’t important. The issue comes when the cost is less the point than the physical difficulty or inability to travel. Even as we age, our active lives lures us into thinking it will always be this way. After all, we’ve seen people in their 90s on trips, haven’t we? Absolutely, and the very reason we remark is because it is the exception, not the norm. In the more likely scenario of a debilitating illness or injury, it is both the distance of a relative traveling and the life being interrupted. In a case of a temporary situation, it might be manageable. Far greater complications arise if the circumstances call into doubt the ability to remain living alone. With small families, it is also possible the remaining relatives may be equally elderly and/or have medical/financial issues that prevent them from being able to help.
These can be daunting problems and the very reason I wrote Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid. Waiting until the moment of a crisis is not the time to plan for such events. Learning what options are available in your area is strongly advised because there are actually three main factors; 1) available resources such as at-home care, transportation, etc. – not all places are created equal – ; 2) cost; 3) who will manage/advocate the assistance. Let’s use the example of affordable at-home care for help that includes transportation for trips to the grocery store and meal preparation. Someone still has to make the arrangements, manage payment and quite frankly, keep an eye out to make certain services are being provided as believed. If these things are researched before hand, getting them started is a matter of scheduling rather than having to scramble and perhaps not having time to properly vet the individual/company. In other cases, maybe external services aren’t available and instead, a network of friends/neighbors will pitch in. That’s quite possible, but again, these are conversations to develop before the need arises.
The solution of entering an independent or assisted living facility is a separate issue that I’m not going to get into in this post. In fact, there are two couples who have been stalwart volunteers within the community for decades. Both have made the decision to relocate before the year end to be closer to their adult children/younger relatives. As much as I hate to see them go, these are the types of choices we must consider for our later years.
My maternal grandmother was one of those women who never wanted to admit her age. I never quite understood it and I think it may be less of an issue these days, although I’m not certain of that. The group of women friends I have my standing Happy Hour and other events with in general don’t mind telling their age and most of us accept the process philosophically. I think it probably has to do with us have worked in interesting jobs, traveled a fair amount, and enjoyed our youth in the day. We also understand that the 20/30-somethings who see us no doubt can’t imagine they will be like that someday. I haven’t had a “traumatic” birthday yet, but I am sometimes a bit startled in thinking of being 64. I’m obviously close to another “big” number and who knows, the moment could hit when I say, “Goodness, I’m not ready for this.” I think the whole being active for much longer is part of why we don’t view aging in the same way. Granted, I walk and don’t jog any longer, but that has far more to do with the fact I never liked jogging and only did it as a requirement of my Army life. I swapped back to my preferred walking as soon as I was able to.
I’ve also never wanted to bother with coloring my hair and that hasn’t changed. I’m fine with whomever wishes to deal with it, but what a lot of effort it takes! I may have mentioned in a previous post all the women on my mother’s side of the family have fine, straight hair and we “gray” early. I had my first silver hairs around 20. In my case, they were/are silver as opposed to white. My mother, unfortunately, had clusters of white instead of evenly streaked, so her decision to color made a bit more sense. As for wrinkles, again, it just seems too much of a bother to have some multi-part daily regimen to deal with. On the other hand, I have always been careful about moisturizer, especially with 30ish SPF sunscreen living here in South Florida.
Musing thoughts ahead. I had an interesting discussion the other day about whether people change. As I’ve posted in the past, holidays can provide a chance to reach out to family or friends where estrangement might have occurred. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should, but it is a common thought this time of year. For the sake of this post, let us assume you have a strained relationship you want to considering trying to recover. The first question is who made the break? Second question is was the break acknowledged or simply happened and “isn’t talked about”? If an individual isn’t actually aware of the break, addressing it can be rather awkward. On the other hand, that could also mean it’s easier to deal with because the other person might say, “Of course I didn’t mean to hurt/upset you? – or – “No I’m not upset with you – why should I be?”
Moving into the more complicated situation of both parties being well aware of a strain, now comes the, Do People Change? In all seriousness, that depends on what is meant by change. Maturity usually has an impact. Other life experiences can have an impact. The decision to want to change for whatever reason can have an impact. In some cases, a person doesn’t change exactly, but perhaps perspective does and that can make a big difference. In some strained relationships, time elapsing does allow perspective to change and hurt to diminish. And with diminished hurt – healing can follow.
On the deeper level, do I think genuinely mean people change? No. Do I think people who behave in a mean manner can? That’s another perhaps. After all, isn’t that why we enjoy the movie, “A Christmas Carol”?
As much as I love a couple of the holiday movies and have posted about them in the past, the other day, the original “True Grit” was on. It was such a quintessential John Wayne role in his older years and while there are only a few lines I really enjoy, there is one scene in particular I have quoted from for a variety of situations. In the event someone hasn’t seen the movie or it’s been quite some time, a very young Robert Duvall is bad guy Ned Pepper. He has a small gang and a young girl, Maddie (Kim Darby), has engaged the services of the older, very gruff Marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to help bring Pepper to justice. Much of the story line is about having adequate True Grit to handle someone like Pepper and his gang and the unlikely pairing of Maddie and Cogburn. Cogburn has a patch over one eye, a fondness for whiskey and few kind words for anyone.The duo becomes a trio when Glenn Campbell joins them as a Texas Ranger also on the trail. There are of course many challenges to face.
Deep into the movie, Cogburn is on horseback across a meadow from Ned Pepper and three of his cohorts, also on horseback. Pepper had previously kidnapped Maddie and was using her as a bargaining chip to get away. In learning Maddie is safe, Pepper makes the case Cogburn should move aside because one against four isn’t good odds and the girl is okay. Pepper calls out, “What are your intentions?”
“I am to kill you in one minute or take you back to Fort Smith to hang at Judge (something or other)’s convenience. What do you have to say to that?”
“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed, fat man.”
Cogburn sits straighter in his saddle, draws a second gun and shouts, “Fill your hand you son-of-_____!”, and charges forward.
It’s not a totally happy ending which I won’t get into, but there have been times in my career or other endeavors when I have made decisions to tackle something that falls into the category of, “bold talk for a one-eyed fat man”. And there were times when the odds were not favorable and things didn’t work out well. In other cases it did. The words, however, have held special meaning since I saw the movie all those years ago.
I don’t recall exactly what show we were watching the other morning when the subject turned to the oil well fires set in Kuwait as the Coalition advanced during Desert Storm. After Saddam Hussein had control of Kuwait – which he did quite rapidly – he didn’t know for certain how firmly that proverbial “Line in the Sand” would be drawn. Without getting into a lot of details, the King of Saudi Arabia opened his country to allow the initial forces to enter in a defensive posture. That was the Desert Shield portion. As plans were being drawn up for the offensive action to re-take Kuwait – that was the Desert Storm part. In the midst of many terrible atrocities Iraqis were committing, orders were given to dig trenches in the oil fields and fill them. Among the other threats, Hussein said he would torch the trenches and the oil wells. According to a source I trust, the Emir of Kuwait said something like, “I can rebuild my country once I have it back.”
And so, early one morning as the lightning fast attacks of Desert Storm were pushing the Iraqi military back, the threat was carried out. I think the number of wells set on fire was around 700 and I don’t know how many trenches were. The headquarters I was in was at least 150 miles away (probably more) and the sky was as dark as if twilight was setting in. It was incredible to see and an environmental disaster of staggering proportions. The sky was affected throughout the day and may have been longer. I also don’t recall the number of special crews they brought in (many American of course), but if you watch the old movie, “Hellfighters”, it’s a good depiction of what it was like for months on end. The fires were set the latter part of January and early February and the first ones weren’t extinguished until early April. The effort took until November to complete. Like so much of what happens in war, it accomplished nothing other than to inflict deliberate damage. It didn’t stop the advance of troops or provide a negotiating point. In situations like these, this is why you demand unconditional surrender.
It’s been a while since I posted about this and I was in a conversation the other day with a friend when the topic came up. I do enjoy the holidays (especially after the cleaning lady has been here to help prep) and try to keep them from being too hectic. My success rate for that one is up for debate, but we always manage to get through them fairly intact.
The sad fact though is holidays can be extremely difficult emotionally for people who have suffered the loss of a loved one, economic set-backs, a relationship that has come apart, family estrangement, and numerous other problems. In most cases, reaching out to the individual is absolutely the right thing to do. Your offer might be declined and that’s when it can get a little tricky. The initial “no” could be for several reasons. The temptation is often to try to urge with the, “You really don’t want to be alone, do you?”; or “Come on, it will be good for you.” Notwithstanding good intentions, it’s hard to know when to press and when to back away. What I tend to do is say something like, “I understand and we’d love to have you, so consider it an open invitation if you change your mind.”
It has been a long time since I’ve spent a holiday alone and back in the day it was a mixed bag of when I really was okay with being alone and when I appreciated being included in others’ celebration. In any case, I hope all of you have a Happy Thanksgiving in whatever form that takes.
Those of us who had far less damage than could have happened with Hurricane Irma are nonetheless experiencing some disorientation combined with gratitude for what we didn’t have to go through. It applies for those who evacuated and those whose chose not to. Fear of the unknown is a reality and in the days leading up to the storm there was (and always will be) a large element of unknown. As I mentioned in previous posts, that’s a significant element in trying to make the decision about evacuating. Now that we are in post-storm recovery, a number of people have remarked about how tired they seem to be. Part of that is because between warning of the storm, prep, going through it personally or from a distance, and trying to recover, everyone’s life has been disrupted to at least some degree for about three weeks now and that is wearing on an often subconscious level.
Those who were without power for up to a week were dealing with temperatures in the 90s and obviously high humidity which is also draining when we have become so accustomed to air conditioning. Once power was restored, there were thousands who didn’t have telephone and internet and television (or some combination) and quite a few won’t be fully back for possibly another week. Again, connectivity has become a way of life for most of us and to be without that is disconcerting. Events that were planned for Sept and early Oct are having to be rescheduled or decisions made to cancel. If rescheduled, the usual time to prep for something tends to be limited which means extra effort is required to try to make the event go smoothly. The simple fact is when you put things into perspective, none of these issues are terrible, yet when your routines are disrupted it has an effect. Being able to recognize that can give an “Aha” moment that helps.
Yesterday was more disrupted than I intended, but so it goes at times. With the initial recovery well underway here, Hubby’s efforts are being focused on Key Largo. Horizon Divers where he works is ready to go as soon as people can start coming down. The Middle and Lower Keys took the brunt of Irma and their recovery will be prolonged, although we’re not certain of what that means time-wise. The Upper Keys, down through Islamorada, are still restricted with a “boil water” order among other things. The complex where HD’s dive operation is includes the restaurant Shipwrecks and that’s what the HD crew is helping with. It’s high 90s and intense humidity so the physical work required for cleanup and repair is pretty draining. Access to the Keys is limited to residents, business owners, and recovery personnel, but the intent is to be ready as soon as visitors can return. How many will is yet to be seen.
In our community, there were so many events that had to be postponed between prep and recovery this will be a hectic week as we sort through what can be rescheduled and how to do that. Power has mostly been restored here, but there are still shortages in the grocery stores and people whose property was severely damaged are dealing with that. Something as simple as if a restaurant wants to open, not having staff back means “normal operations” can be impeded. School is starting back today and that is an indicator of routines beginning again. It will probably be another two-three weeks though before we can be genuinely considered as recovered.
As mentioned a few days ago, the issue of getting home is a factor in making the decision about evacuating or not. In this case, since Hurricane Irma was highly destructive in some areas and not as much in most, those who did not suffer severe damage can’t help but wonder if they should have hunkered down instead. The sheer process of evacuating, unless done so at the earliest sign of trouble, and trying to return as quickly as possible means coping with drives that can be 30-80% longer than usual and the potential to not be able to get gas or a place to stay during the trip. This is added to the stress of not knowing what the outcome of the pending disaster will be.
For people who go into a shelter, there is often the inability to leave as soon as they would like because roads and streets may not be passable. For thousands here, even if their home did not suffer great damage, with 80% of the county without power, that meant unpleasant conditions at home at a minimum, although most were ready to try and manage. The drawback to waiting for the initial shortages and restrictions to pass before returning is if you do have damage, you are that much more behind everyone else who is making claims and getting clean-up and repairs starting.
Situations like this are something too few people consider when they make the decision to relocate to an area where natural disasters are known to occur. Tornadoes and earthquakes are two of the exceptions because there is still little ability to have much warning about those. Hurricanes, floods, and blizzards all bring the thorny question about what choice to make. This is why knowing what to do to be genuinely prepared no matter which option is chosen is important.
As much as we rightfully spend tremendous effort in the safety aspect of preparation, the logistics of recovery is critical, especially in this case when such a huge amount of the state was hit. I will briefly talk about the storm itself. With the hurricane shutters, you are basically enclosed in the house although this type of shutter allows in a little light top and bottom. Since they are metal though, you also get the rattle as well as the sound of the wind and rain. We closed the last shutters about 4:00 Saturday afternoon as the wind picked up to near tropical storm strength. Irma was so large, that even though she made landfall about 80 miles south at 9:00 Sunday morning, we could not open the shutters until daybreak today. The main impact to us started about noon Sunday and went for around six hours, but the winds were still dangerous into the night. The remaining time was because of lingering bands passing through. Somehow in all of this we kept power and were/are very thankful for that.
Damage to most of our neighborhood was slight, lots of downed trees and debris, but few structural issues. The critical thing is to try and stay off the roads so the first responders, cleanup and power crews can do their jobs without interference. Having enough groceries, medicine, etc., on hand to stay out of those places for a full three days is also helpful. Shelves can only be restocked at a certain rate and allowing those supplies to start flowing normally again is important. Do you risk going a little stir-crazy, particularly if you don’t have power? Yes. Being out in a mass of people possibly vying for items still in short supply isn’t really a better alternative.
The state, counties, cities, and major players such as Florida Power and Light and big retailers (to include gas stations) have done an admirable job of being ready for the recovery and allowing them to get to it is key. Sadly, there is also the reality of looting and there have already been some thieves caught thanks to so many more video cameras than in the past.
In going back to the question about whether or not to evacuate, being able to return to your home is a factor. Right now, a lot of people can’t have access to their homes for today and possibly into tomorrow because the roads have to be cleared. Downed trees and power lines are the main obstacles. When you have spent days prepping and days in a shelter or on the road, the extra delay is incredibly frustrating.
More tomorrow as I go down to keep reassembling the house.