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Wilting Flowers

by on May 12, 2016

                                                            Wilting Flowers

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

           “As we grow old, the beauty steals inward.”

Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) In Ralph Waldo Emerson Journal. 1845

All comments welcome.

For much of the U.S. Spring has arrived.  Even the word evokes positive interpretations.  The trees and flowering plants are budding, blooming, and sending out new leaves.  The birds are calling “Cheer up! Cheer up!” They are busy feeding their chicks.  Other young wildlife are cautiously venturing out, eyes blinking, trying out those muscles and moves.  The sentinel crow calls to his buddies, “It’s just the old guy walking his dog.” Never let on you understand a language until you have to.

And soon we will look at our flowering plants and see flowers past their prime, drooping, wilting, and we will feel we must prune the dying flowers for the aesthetic appearance, even the health of the plant. Walking in my woods out back I will occasionally find a chick fallen from the nest, perhaps dead, perhaps not.  I’ve seen adult birds on the ground flop around as if injured to distract me from a nearby chick.  And I remind myself to “let Nature take its course.”

Flowers are interesting.  Like my knowledge of birds, I have very little knowledge of what’s what.  The biology department at a college where I taught decided to put taxonomic labels on trees, bushes and plants: Binomial nomenclature.  My first thought was, “Gee, and all this time I thought these were trees, bushes and plants. Will they be labeling people next?”

The ways people interpret flowers are also interesting.  For decades the social sciences, including history and anthropology, were permeated with behavioral interpretations based in theology.  So, the first Neanderthal burials found with flowers were heralded as belief in an afterlife, even reincarnation.  Always a build-from-the-basics kind of guy, and having worked in a funeral home, and having done my share of survivalist camping I saw it differently.  Without embalming, the body begins to break down rather quickly in very odiferous ways.  Scrubbing out a shallow pit with simple stone hand tools means the body will be near the surface.  To reduce the likelihood of it being dug up by a scavenger, and to reduce the stench emanating from the grave, flowers are generously included.  Even an embalmed body seeps a chemical odor to which some people are sensitive, especially if they approach and touch it.  Flowers around the casket. Anyone familiar with the history of the perfume industry well understand this.

I also thought putting cut flowers in a hospital patient’s room was a rather odd thing to do.  To me it was like saying, “I know you aren’t going to last long, so enjoy.”

Our language employs plant development in several ways. We talk about children blossoming into young adults, growing like a weed. We have anecdotes such as “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”.  But these taper off sharply as age progresses.

I worked in a small town funeral home from summer 1959 to summer 1960.  Back then there were no independent ambulance services in our region; we provided that.  There were no hospices or home assistance programs; we provided that through such things as me driving oxygen equipment to a home and setting it up, lifting someone from bed to easy chair in the morning and returning them to their bed in the evening, transporting them by non-emergency ambulance to hospitals or clinics for treatment, or transporting them to nursing homes.  Of course, I was able to develop conversational friendships with those who were able. Even when they couldn’t respond I always talked to them. It was here that I saw the other end of the journey.

If the word Alzheimer’s had entered the lexicon I certainly never heard it.  Many people were clear and lucid; the others were simply lumped into the “senility” category, particularly if their impairment included resistance to nursing orders and/or dramatic shifts in their behavior toward family members.  This was before the relatively sudden advent – one might say blossoming development of psycho-pharmaceuticals that became the daily mainstay in nursing homes, leaving so many people wedged into wheelchairs – the tray holding them in, in a stupor in the dayroom while the television blared out the soap operas for the amusement of the staff.  Others simply lay in their beds day after endless day. It was also before the now much better understanding of the various causes for dementia and the development of cause specific approaches.

Years later I established working relationships with nursing homes in Central Florida so I could place my advanced Death & Dying students with their lucid residents.  The students ranged in age from late teens to early forties.  By then Florida had long been associated with aging retirees moving into the State, renewing their Drivers Licenses even though they had to feel their way into the DMV office, playing shuffleboard and bingo, patronizing the ubiquitous liquor stores, going to restaurants for the Senior Early Special, and sitting on sunlit park benches facing what some may have hoped was their last sunset. It became known as “Heaven’s Waiting Room.” South Georgia could have erected highway signs reading: Pearly Gates Ahead 500 Yards.

I don’t know where or when the title Senior Citizen entered the lexicon but it took off in Florida. But what, exactly, did it mean? An interesting development that may have been related was an uptick in petty crime – shoplifting, parking in restricted zones, etc., attributed to older people.  Some opined it resulted from a sense of entitlement conferred by the new Senior Citizen title.  Others suggested that, as one’s end draws in sight one loses the inhibitions that enabled comfortable socialization; one “cares less”.  As you honk and pass that old lady peering over her dashboard as she drives 20 mph under the speed limit she is as likely to give you the finger as any rebellious teenager.

Another development has been the “spreading like weeds” of Assisted Living facilities, offering a range of levels from room and board (with parking and pet friendly options) to full nursing lock-up for dementia residents (“memory care”).  While assessing one for my mother, my wife and I found a place that was so nice we would have lived there as grad students were we going to the nearby university.  Sadly, many of the places, especially when the level of care must be elevated, are simply out of financial reach for most people.  And, unless things have changed, a person is required to meet the criteria for “Indigent” at least two years ahead of qualifying for government assistance.  Clever estate maneuvering can manage that for many if they know of it far enough in advance, but was simply out of the question for us;  we just paid $3,700.00 per month for several years in the 1990’s.  And, I don’t know if that assistance even applies to Assisted Living as it does to nursing homes.

Early in my relationship with nursing homes I noticed that most of them had large clocks with an additional feature which said, “Today Is: _________”.  At first I thought that was a good idea.  But as I got to interact with the residents I found that for many of them the passage of days, the hour of the day, meant little or nothing.  Their days were meaningfully trisected by three significant markers: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  Yes, there were various scheduled activities.  But participation was at best half-hearted.  It made me wonder how we mark our days.  And, it made me more aware of the trepidation many older workers have as they face impending retirement. So often we hear, “How will I fill my days?”  For those hit by the reality that constant travel is beyond their reach daytime television is soul death, and becoming sedentary soon finishes the job.

One such worker, an administrative assistant at a large federal agency, was a divorced woman living alone.  She confided her fears to me and I told her she should look into her community to find organizations and social groups she found interesting.  Once having identified some, she should take some of those unused annual leave days and go to the meetings of these groups.  Instead of presenting herself as a supplicant hoping to be admitted she should adopt the attitude that she was the potential employer and conduct an interview with them to determine exactly how they could be of benefit to her.  She did as I suggested and, though it took a while, found groups she felt compatible and transitioned into her retirement happily.

Another retiree, a few years my senior, recently asked me what I thought of his getting a dog.  I said I was all for it, so long as he went to shelters and specifically got an older dog. Startled that I may have been hinting I thought he was near the end, he asked why.  I explained an older dog is less likely to get adopted, less likely to wander off from him, more likely to walk with him at an acceptable pace, and nowhere near as much trouble as a young dog.  And, he would have less worries about the dog should something happen to him.  I’ve had deep friendships with older dogs and older horses.  They convey their appreciation for every moment you spend with them.

I certainly do not mean to be morose.  But using wise forethought should not necessarily be depressing.  Of course there are many elderly people who live quite happily in their own homes, despite the image portrayed by ubiquitous television ads that hawk Life Alert and so many related products.

So many people chart and measure their career path by promotions, pay increases and other markers that will one day fade in importance.  I am who I am; I’m not what I work at.  My life is my path; careers are only temporary ways of expressing myself and, to an extent, developing the momentum which will carry me through the years I have yet to travel.

 

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18 Comments
  1. I think maintaining a sense of humor is key to aging. This seemed apropos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPFCn3itBFE
    I love the line, “This is the first time I have ever been old.”
    I found retirement required quite an adjustment. There is a cute Pixar cartoon, “Boundin’. In it a shaved little sheep runs about saying, “I used to be something all covered in fluff”. I felt like saying that to all the new people I met after I moved and was retired. I still have to fight the urge to tell new acquaintances about my professional successes like they define me. Even though it has been a few years now, this still seems like new territory. I’ve not completely adapted, but getting there. Marco, your recommended reading of “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” has been one of the best books I have found on the subject. After reading it I realized my mother, without knowing it had followed the perfect path to her death. It was very comforting to read. And the book has given me guidance in my own journey to the end of this life. It is something we should be preparing for as long as we are alive. That was interesting about the history of flowers on a casket. I suppose all things we do start with a reason. I’ll go check now how Friday the 13th myths developed.

    • Thank you, Mary. I totally agree, humor is the best plan for a continued transition, no matter what. I am genuinely happy you have found the Tibetan book so helpful I often say I hope I’m reading it when my time comes.

      Like you, I try to avoid any references to career history when meeting someone. It makes things so much easier. I have, however, been tempted to say “I was released not long ago.”

    • Mary, Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is marvelous. Glad you have found it meaningful.

  2. Marco, I was so happy to see a new post from you. I did initially find it a bit morose, perhaps because I do not always care to think about aging. I find it odd when you call yourself “old,” because as you know, I have little concept of age and time. However, discussing aging is important. I realize this.

    My grasp on “time” has gotten worse; I rarely know what day it is. Perhaps some of this comes from a job where I work weekends as well. However, it is quite freeing. I do not have to rule my life as so many do – depressing Mondays, living for the weekend, the corny “hump day” halfway through the week, or “happy Fridays.” It’s all a mish-mash for me, much like green space is for you. I had to buy a watch for work because I forget to check my phone for the time. When I am doing something I enjoy and find fulfilling, time really does fly. Because I am paid hourly, I often find myself going over my scheduled time. Oh well.

    I was restless when I left work today. My shift was only 4.5 hours, and I left thinking, “What now?” I don’t quite know what to do with myself when I am not working or studying. I have no clue what retirement will look like for me, but I do not like to have too much unoccupied time on my hands. As for the present, I either need more hours, or more self-study when I am not in school. Keeping my mind occupied is crucial for me. In a perfect world, I would be meeting up with like-minded individuals (you) having meaningful conversations in my free time.

    But isn’t that what we are doing now?

    • Thank you, Dana. In a good way your job allows you to immerse yourself in mindfulness. Not many people have that, or would enjoy it if they did. Still, you are expressing the restlessness of finding time standing still. But peace will come with that.

      Yes, the perfect world, a secular monastery where people can come and go as they please, conversing with others or just being still together. We do have some of that on these electronic pages. But your life is vibrant, and becoming more so all the time. I’m sure that others, sensitive to you, will cross your path, and return. I follow your progress.

      • Thank you. I am thoroughly enjoying the mindfulness of my job, and I find no task menial or mundane.

        “I explained an older dog is less likely to get adopted, less likely to wander off from him, more likely to walk with him at an acceptable pace, and nowhere near as much trouble as a young dog. And, he would have less worries about the dog should something happen to him. I’ve had deep friendships with older dogs and older horses. They convey their appreciation for every moment you spend with them.”

        I am very much looking forward to rescuing a senior dog when I am able. Not sure if it will be while Billie is still with me or not. His energy is still limitless at nine.

      • You and Billie are fortunate to have each other and it shows in his energy and in your realization of being. There will come a time to share that with another.

      • Marco, I also wanted to add that recently working with Bishwa and Biju (Buddhist, from Nepal) at my last job was a lesson in mindfulness. It was both interesting and a joy to observe their demeanor. Calm, cool, collected, and seemingly practicing mindfulness with every task.

        Observing them taught me to slow down. I try to practice this now. Even if my body is required to move quickly to get something done in a timely manner, I try to quiet my mind.

  3. The changes that come with aging have long been on my mind. Being a stay-at-home mother, I have often asked myself, “retire from what?” My daughter and her family have recently moved from my home into one of their own, and although I still care for my granddaughter before and after school, I find myself very much at loose ends in between. Nothing has really changed, and yet it has.

    My husband’s health forced him into retirement about four years ago. Oddly, the activities in which he joined me before have ceased to be a part of our lives. After forty years in the work force, he is genuinely content to just sit, entertaining himself with electronic toys.

    For thirty years, the Fuller Brush man visited our home on a regular basis. He was my fathers age, and we often wished he would retire, but he always said he could not afford to do so. Then one day, we noticed that he hadn’t been by for a while. I used to joke that they would find him dead behind the wheel of his car, but the truth is that none of us really know what happened to him; he was simply there one day and not the next.

    That’s the way it is for all of us, really; here today and gone tomorrow. I try to be aware each day of what I will be leaving behind when I am gone. Will my friends miss me? Will they even realize I’m gone? Most of them don’t seem to know I’m here now. So, I will set my home and life in order, then spend the rest of my life learning what it is to be truly alive.

    • Thank you so much, Rose. Your candid comments about the brush salesman bring to mind – and I am sure this is true for many, if not most of us, the many people we have encountered in our lives that seem to lived out the formula: Eat. Shit. Die. So many people define themselves as persons by what they do. Obviously, this is a box canyon. If they live long enough, they will one day face a wall which impedes that persona any further. Some will learn to see through that wall, some won’t.

      Your continuous involvement with your daughter and her family is a thread out of the labyrinth, as is your truly marvelous writing. I’m hoping you don’t feel you will have to wait to eavesdrop on your eulogy to find out how meaningful you are in the lives of others. I feel I can say you are – in a timeless way – a major cord in the rope of my life. Marco

      • Thank you, Marco. There are no words to express how much knowing you has meant to me. Even in the years when our lives did not include one another, the lessons I had learned from you (anthropological and otherwise) were never far from the surface. Sentences often started with or contained your name. If I have courage, I have learned it from you. If I am mindful, it was gained from knowing you. I am proud to call you friend, and happy that you do the same.

      • If I’ve embarrassed you, feel free to delete.

      • Not at all. I am forever proud of our friendship and will remain so.

  4. Most know not that not knowing of knowing not and not to know if they knew would tie them in knots.

    The recent Channeling Erik with Mary and Jesus (Emanuel) explained that most people aren’t aware.

    • Thanks, PM. I dare not say I knew you would say that. Seriously, I do wonder at the people who sleep through their lives.

  5. Spring has just arrived in my part of the world, Southern Hemisphere, although not quite so much that everything is happy happy just yet; winter this year has claws… Winter was, is tough, we’ve had to watch the condition of our fifteen year old cat deteriorate, so I can relate to the Wilting Flower theme. Nice entry, it has a lot in it I can try to mull over…

    • Thank you, Prof and welcome. Speaking for all of us, I would like to read more of your comments and impressions. Southern Hemisphere is a big area and we would like to learn more.

      • :o) *that moment you realize your blog wasn’t linked to your gravatar profile* Thanks Mpardi! South Africa (braces self).

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