Aging Our Way

Lessons for living, from age 85 and beyond

"How Many of Us Are Left?"

One of the original 30 elders in my research takes account of his 96th year.

At our annual lunch at his favorite cafe by the Hudson River, Glenn usually gets around to the question he’s been wanting to ask.

“So, how many of us are left?”

Last year, when he asked this, I was fresh off of the memorial of dear Alice. I swallowed, and told him that about half of the original group of 30 that I profiled in my book were still living. And then we talked about how hard it is to see so many go.

This year the losses were even more personal. My grandfather was one of them. He used to ask the same question that Glenn likes to ask. And he’d want to know about the living–the guys in particular–like how Glenn and Eddie were getting on.

When I told Glenn that I thought only 1/3 of the group was still living (10 individuals), he seemed to connect with that. “We’re all going downhill,” he said. “I’ll be 97 in two months.”

You may recall that Glenn liked to play pranks to get people laughing. To lighten the mood, I asked him if he had played any jokes on anyone recently. He said no, but he had a big surprise for me (each year there is big news of some sort that Glenn builds suspense about).

Out of his file of papers and pictures, he pulled out a bill for a five-day emergency room stay. $25,000. “My doctor told me my heart wasn’t right, so I had to go to the emergency room.” That was the big surprise of 2014. Luckily, being a veteran meant his bills were paid in full, at least in this case.

Glenn lives for his family. An our annual year-in-review lunch, he brought along a file folder full of evidence of his kids and grandkids’ success, and by association, his pride. There was a picture of a fancy yacht, and an amusing story about his grandson’s summer job cleaning that thing with a toothbrush. Then there was a dog bakery menu–evidence of a job his granddaughter’s boyfriend got in New Zealand. And there was his daughter’s recent book on translating–and a free copy for me if I so desired.

After running through the year’s events, he turned to me and says, “Now it is your turn, run through your highlights.” "Uh….." I say something brief and they redirect to questions about his kids.

I imagine his kids must have known something was up when he was wheeled into the emergency room. He talks to most of them every day or every other day, and all of a sudden there was silence. I asked if they came to visit recently.

“All of a sudden, when I was in the emergency room, they all had business in New York. They all came to visit, one by one.”

Now back and home, Glenn resumes his daily calls and/or emails with his children (one in Haiti, one in Paris, one in Washington state, and one in Washington DC. He says he can’t do much, and he misses being active. Walking to the mailbox leaves him out of breath. But he did say that he had his Danish friends over last week for lunch.

Copyright Meika Loe
Meika Loe is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Colgate University. She is the author of Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond.

Meika Loe, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Colgate University.

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