One of my most enjoyable retirement activities is spending time with my favorite octogenarian. I hope someone will say that about me when I’m 80 (an event that will occur in a little over 4500 days, but who’s counting?)
I’m lucky to have a great role model for living well and with contentment in your 80s. For several years now Jean, Yvonne’s 84 year old cousin, has been showing me how to handle the twists and turns that await us, if we are fortunate enough to reach this extended stretch on the pathway of life.
Actually, Jean has been one of my heroes since the first time I met her 50 years ago. I remember that day as though it was yesterday, of walking up on her front porch and receiving a big warm hug that said, “Welcome to the family”, even though I wouldn’t become an official member of Yvonne’s family for three more years.
I’m told that Jean said a few cross words once, but that alleged occasion remains undocumented and I seriously doubt that it ever happened. For nearly 85 years Jean has simply been a soft spoken example of kindness. Most of all, she is a therapeutic listener. Friends and family members call and talk with her, sometimes for hours, because doing so makes them feel better.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Jean. When James, her lifelong companion, passed away in 1994, Jean remained in the home they purchased in the early 1950s. It was a home filled with memories, including raising their two boys there, but when it became apparent she could no longer maintain that drafty old house, with the bathroom on the second floor and washer and dryer in the basement, Jean made the tough decision to sell it and move into a senior citizen apartment building. It was a challenging move because, as Jean said, “Everyone there is old.” The fact that she was already 80 and older than many of her new neighbors never crossed her mind. Albeit with some reluctance, Jean accepted the necessity of this change and adjusted to it.
In recent years physical ailments have been sneaking up on Jean, arthritis being the primary culprit until just recently. Knee replacement is being contemplated but In the meantime Jean has agreed to a series of injections of a collagen substance derived from, of all things, the cocks combs – yes those little floppy things on top of a rooster’s head. I’d never heard of such a thing, nor had Jean, but her response to the idea was predictable, “I’ll just have to do it if I want to keep on walking.”
Jean’s most recent setback was not as easy to deal with. While talking (mostly listening) to a friend on the phone a few weeks ago, Jean began to feel a severe pain – “right over my heart”, she later explained, placing a hand over her heart. The doctor at the emergency room put her through some tests, and six days later a cardiothoracic surgeon cut through Jean’s breast bone and ribcage to bypass three arteries that were 95 percent blocked.
Understandably, Jean was a little nervous as she anticipated the surgery, but just like every other challenge she had faced over the years Jean quietly took it in stride. To no one’s surprise, except maybe Jean’s, just two weeks and one day later she was back in her apartment to look after her cat, Lucy-Lu, while completing her recovery.
Yvonne and I happened to be visiting Jean when the physical therapist visited to assess Jean’s need for outpatient therapy. In the hospital Jean had been told that she might need therapy at home for 4-6 weeks, but after putting her through a battery of exercises the therapist said, “You scored 26 of a possible 28 points on the assessment. I won’t need to come back.” I think Jean was a little disappointed because the therapist was a nice young lady and Jean was looking forward to visiting with her.
Jean’s appointment with the heart surgeon is coming up in a few days. I suspect he will release her, but not before taking a picture to use as his “octogenarian heart surgery poster child.” As for me, I have no plans to release her; I’m looking forward to spending time with my favorite octogenarian and celebrating her first nonagenarian birthday five years from now.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Yvonne, live in Jackson Township.