Your 80’s: The Decade of Intractable Stubbornness

If, as was established in the Tao of Steve, the worst kind of fatist is a fat fatist, then by extension I’m the worst kind of ageist, an old one. My shameful ageist rant is buried after the break for those of you who are easily offended.

My next-door neighbor in a woman in her 80s who, after being widowed a couple of years ago, is living alone in her large suburban tract home with a fairly steep driveway. While her husband was ill, I helped them out, and now one of my missions in life, right after keeping liver failure at bay, is to stop her from breaking her hip on that goddam driveway. The task is made a little more difficult because she and her husband had an old-school marriage: she did the inside work, and he did the outside work, which means that she has no decent outdoor clothes, because her main outdoor time with her husband was the few seconds it took to traverse the distance between the back door and the car. After his passing, her tottering 80 foot trip down the driveway is usually accomplished in a pair of practical yet attractive flats that are suitable for everyday wear as well as a casual night out with her lady friends.

Even though this woman has my home phone number and my cell number, it would take an act of God and Congress for her to call me for help. She’s very appreciative when I bring up her mail, shovel her driveway or take her recycling out, but no matter how many thousand times I’ve told her that I’ll do it for her, if I don’t do it the minute it can be done, her 98 lbs of little old lady bone, sinew and pure bullheadedness is headed down that fucking driveway, and damn the weather. That’s how I found her the other night, when I was running a little late to pick up her mail. She was shuffle-stepping down the driveway with her big, full, heavy recycle tote, during a windstorm, in about 30 degree weather, no coat, and wearing those goddam useless shoes. She looked pretty relieved when I got her tote and took it to the curb and she did take my arm to go back up the hill, but her fear will be forgotten the next time I’m 10 minutes late to fetch her two catalogs and three pieces of junk mail from the mailbox. There’s no force on earth that can stop her latest attempt to make herself another entry in the actuarial tables by taking a trip to the mailbox in a goddam snowstorm.

And, no, she’s not demented, far from it. She’s got full command of her faculties, she’s just stubborn, just like my old man. He’s 82, and on the same night that I met my neighbor on her driveway of doom, he called me to place an Amazon order (he won’t touch a computer) and to grudgingly inform me about his latest health issue. My general impression of his health is that it’s pretty good but that’s all the self-report of a retired doctor who spins his health the way Frank Luntz spins a focus group. His main health issue is irregular heart rhythms. He’s seemingly had every one except asystole, including A-fib and SVT, which to hear him tell it are as common and innocuous as an upper respiratory infection or a shaving cut. His latest one is a form of PVC called quadrigemy, or, as he calls it, “nothing serious”. It was so non-serious that his doctor (Google “poor bastard” to find his picture) had him wear a Holter monitor, a device that records a days worth of heart rhythms. My dad took that as a challenge to do as much physical activity as possible while wearing it, so he regaled me with tales of how much snow he shoveled in the 8 degree weather they’re having, so much that he thinks he “blew the thing [Holter monitor] up”.

He may be right, because he still hasn’t gotten the test results back. My brother talked to him last night because the old man, who’s a big liberal, was working on another letter to the editor and needed some gun violence statistics. (I’m the Amazon customer service rep this week, my brother does the same job for Google.) My brother reported that Dad was a little concerned because the delay in getting results might be an issue for “those people” who have a serious heart problem, i.e., not him.

The notion that age “mellows” people, whatever that means, is nothing more than a sentimental lie. These two octogenarians are as stubborn at 80 as they were at 50, or 30, if not more so. My old man will probably drop dead while out shoveling snow in ten below weather or mowing his hilly lawn with a push mower in the 100 degree heat just to prove that “my heart is fine”. One of these days I know I’ll walk around the corner to find my neighbor dressed in a tasteful wool sweater set circa 1978, with matching flats, lying in a snowbank, in a blizzard, having fallen during her hurried quest to retrieve the latest Miles Kimball catalog from her mailbox. That’s just how it’s going to be and there’s not a goddam thing I can do or say to stop it.

99 replies
  1. 1
    brettvk says:

    I’m a few decades away from these folks’ age but I think I might know their motivation — it’s hard to admit you can’t do for yourself, no matter how kind and useful other people are in compensating for your declining powers.

  2. 2
    kerFuFFler says:

    My mom is the same…..85 years old and still mowing her own lawn! At least she lives somewhere warm.

  3. 3
    wonkie says:

    My eighty five year old father refused to get help caring for my mother who had Alzhiemers. I drove out (about one hundred miles one way) every week end for a couple of years while my mother got harder ad harder to deal with. my dad soldiered on. Then I got a call from an emergency room; dad was in thehospital, possilbe stroke.

    It turned out that he had a Bell’s palsy, not a stroke, but my sister and I finally (should hav edone it sooner) went behind his back and used our money to hire a careprovider so he could get the hell out of the house for five hours a day.When Dad found out that we were spending our meony, he fiipped out. Depression era mentality. Anyway we told him that he ws goig to have a careprovider whether he liked it or not and if he didn’t pay for it we would. So he finally paid for it.

    Afte my mother’s death my dad told me that caring for her had been harder than fighting in World War Two. He died a year later.

    I think that that generation does have trouble accepting help.

  4. 4
    Phylllis says:

    I kept an eye on an 80-ish neighbor years ago who was pretty much deaf as a post. Gentle attempts to suggest having her hearing checked were met with “I don’t need a damn hearing aid, those are for old people.” Being the polite southern girl I am, I always refrained from asking her to define what age ‘old people’ started at. Obviously ten years older than whatever age she currently was, I suspect.

  5. 5
    red dog says:

    And your problem with us old folks is that we are stubborn? We grew up in an age of self reliance, trial and error, and make do with what you have. Now you guys have a “living for dummies manual” so you have become lemmings. Your help with chores is great but also a reminder of what we are old.

  6. 6
    kerFuFFler says:


    it’s hard to admit you can’t do for yourself, no matter how kind and useful other people are in compensating for your declining powers.

    You’re right about that! I am just trying to convince my mom that while she is lucky to still be strong and spry enough to do such work, she should not risk injuring herself doing it. All it takes is one bad fall and then she may never enjoy a similar level of mobility. Next visit we have to visit this issue again….

  7. 7
    Poopyman says:

    It’s not stubbornness – or at least not just stubbornness. It’s fear. Fear of losing control of your own life. I’ve seen in it my own parents and in-laws, and I see it in my 80-something neighbors. It sucks to no longer be able to do something for yourself.

    Look, I’m only 58, but I can already sense declining vision and balance, and I’ll be goddamned if I’ll submit to it without a fight.

  8. 8
    Cermet says:

    Sounds like she feels guilty for not being able to pay you. So I guess that then calling you and asking would just double the guilt for her! Your kindness is fantastic but you’ll never change her because of her limited income and guilt. Just accept it and try your best and accept when you can’t jump on the issue and she does it instead.

    By the way, would like to hear what you are doing for your liver? As a non-drinker or drug user, I stupidityallowed myself to be talked into using statins (two types)by my MD and learned an extremely bitter lesion relative to liver problems – no going back after that diaster.

  9. 9
    kerFuFFler says:


    Gentle attempts to suggest having her hearing checked were met with “I don’t need a damn hearing aid, those are for old people.”

    Another issue I am having with my mother….

    One time she said that if her hearing was not so great it was from ear infections she had had as a child, not advancing age! But, she still does not want a hearing aid because it would make her look like an old lady!

    And then there is my dad, 90 years old. At a recent doctor appointment he complained to the physician that he was no longer comfortable standing up straight and that he now bent over as he walked, “like an old man”. His doctor laughed and said, “I have news for you, sir!” At least my dad can laugh at himself.

  10. 10
    mistermix says:

    @Cermet: My liver therapy is taking one drink for every two DougJ takes when we’re out drinking. Seriously.

    My neighbor does not have a limited income. She’s by no means rich but her husband was a banker and a “good provider”. She’s by no means rich but she’s not eating Alpo. You’re right that she does feel guilty about it but I’ve had a number of talks with her and her kids about how I would feel much worse if she hurt herself doing something I’m happy to help her with.

  11. 11
    danielx says:


    Clearly. I used to (conveniently) define middle age as ten years older than I was, kind of a moveable feast that way. I quit doing that right about the time that every month used to bring a new ache or pain, along with the concomitant worry about is this going to be the one that kills me, etc. But I’m still a lot more flexible (mentally and physically) than folk in their 80s, as I can tell you from observing people from the perspective of 25-odd years involvement with the senior housing business. Those folks were (and I suspect still are) convinced that Obama’s election was the end of the world; couldn’t get their minds around the concept of a ni-CLANG! in the White House. Hell, some of them had a hard time with John Kennedy because he was – gasp – a Catholic.

    Everybody is a product of their time and place, and some of those times were not what we’d consider enlightened by today’s standards. A lot of what we are pleased to refer to as the Greatest Generation had major league difficulties with Harry Truman because he had the effrontery to order the integration of the armed forces…

  12. 12
    RSA says:


    it’s hard to admit you can’t do for yourself, no matter how kind and useful other people are in compensating for your declining powers.

    Speaking from first-hand observation, I think this is exactly right. We see it in older people becase that’s when it tends to happen, but the main issue is losing one’s sense of self-reliance. Everyone needs that feeling.

  13. 13
    MomSense says:

    My great aunt used to quote my great grandmother’s best quote about aging. It is wonderfully, painfully, maddeningly true. “We become more of who we are as we get older.”

  14. 14
    ding dong says:

    This post reads like a cole “my mommy loves my brother more and I just broke my nekkid hip chasing tunch on black ice” post. Seriously I knew a guy who was a volunteer ,was in the rotary club etc etc until he fell in his shower. His son found him three days later. He went from being completely independent to living in a nursing home mostly in bed because of severe back injuries.

  15. 15
    c u n d gulag says:

    I befriended an 81 year-old Jewish man 5 almost years ago, and I drove him around once in a while, and helped him out in other ways.

    Right before Christmas, he wasn’t there for me to pick-up on Sunday morning at the supermarket.
    He walks all over the place (probably why he’s now 86), and on Sundays, goes shopping and I pick him up, and drive him and his families groceries back to the apartment.
    He was a widower, but had remarried, to a very young Jamaican woman, a year before I ment him, and fathered a son – he calls getting married the worst and most stupid move he’s ever made. Especially since his wife’s 85 year-old grandmother moved in.

    Well, after he wasn’t there, I tried calling him on the cell phone.
    No answer.
    What followed, was several weeks of trying to call him, knocking on his door, and leaving my name and number at the various places I know he walks to.

    The week before last, I went and knocked again at his door again. This time, some guy upstairs opened his window, and told me that my friend had moved out about a month ago.
    He didn’t know.
    His cell still wasn’t working.

    And then, a couple of days ago at a local Mobil station, I’d heard he’d been sighted. He’d been in the hospital for two weeks with kidney failure.

    I left my number there, AGAIN.
    And lo and behold, right before I read this post, he called me from his new cell phone.
    Yes, he and his family had moved.
    And, he had fainted shortly after that, and was in a coma in the hospital for awhile, and had just gotten out a couple of days ago.

    So, now I’ll probably be taking him to the VA this week.

    I love that cranky Old School Conservative.
    And I’m glad he’s ok.
    I’ve missed the grumpy old bastard.

  16. 16
    bemused says:

    My in-laws, 89 and 93, are the same, very independent and frugal. Experiencing living during the Great Depression probably reinforced those characteristics they had to begin with. Three weeks after a hip replacement, my fil just had to take out the car for them to do some errands. Of course, they didn’t check with his doctor if he should drive yet. Yes, they are very impatient and hate waiting for someone else to do the things they used to be able to do when and how they wanted to.

    People marvel at them and say they want to be like them if they live that long. They have their health problems but nothing keeps them down. They can horrify us, the family, at times with some of their escapades. My sil said they just don’t think of themselves as being as old as they are.

    Those very independent traits they have is the reason they have lived so long and well.

  17. 17
    RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    I’m meeting Dad for dinner tonight. I’m 53 and he’s 76 or 77. In great health, with just a touch of diabetes on the debit side of his ledger.
    My stepmother I’m not so sure about. She’s been averaging one minor broken bone/year for the last decade. Not a good sign.
    They’ve announced plans to discontinue the relentless pursuit of Great Lakes sportfish as a summer hobby and will begin traveling about the country with a motor home or similar conveyance/habitation. It’s a sudden change and I want to find out what’s behind it.

  18. 18
    Steeplejack says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    I thought you were heading toward a Wives with Knives anecdote there.

  19. 19
    PurpleGirl says:

    At one point my father had a home health aide for several half-days a week. My mother’s complaint was that the aide didn’t do any house cleaning for her. Her complaint with Meals-on-Wheels was that the food wasn’t hot or even warm when it arrived. There was no explaining to her what these services were supposed to be and/or why things worked as they did. She had her ideas and that was that. I sincerely hope that I’m not that way — it was tiring to deal with her. And she was like that when younger, she only became more so as she aged. (Dad died at 86, Mom at 95.)

  20. 20
    Culture of Truth says:

    Heck, I’m relatively young and I don’t get the mail in a snowstorm.

    (I’m the Amazon customer service rep this week, my brother does the same job for Google.)


    I fear for your neighbor, but your dad will probably live to be 100.

  21. 21
    RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    I’ve said this here before. My paternal grandmother is 95 and still lives more or less as she has since about 1948, except Grandpa’s gone and she doesn’t drive.
    Old people can be resistant to change but maybe that’s a good thing. Stability and security are positives as you grow older. It’s easier to find small workarounds to get things done than to make larger, life-altering changes. Stability and predictability in your life means lower stress, and stress ages people.

  22. 22
    gbear says:

    @red dog:

    And your problem with us old folks is that we are stubborn? We grew up in an age of self reliance, trial and error, and make do with what you have. Now you guys have a “living for dummies manual” so you have become lemmings. Your help with chores is great but also a reminder of what we are old.

    I hope that was snark. If it isn’t, it’s a prime example of why young folks might wish we olds would just go ahead and die.

  23. 23
    Emma says:

    @red dog: So we should let you break your necks and decrease the social security rolls?

    My parents, both in the their late seventies,kayn ahora still fairly healthy, would rather eat thumb tacks that say they need help. So far so good but I dread the day.

  24. 24
    22over7 says:


    This. This all day. And who can blame them for the fear? With old age comes infirmity, the humiliation of a thousand doctor visits, incontinence, deafness, blindness, pain, dependence, and finally death, who waits patiently for us all. I know I can feel it waiting for me.

    I lost my old dad last year. He didn’t suffer much, never lost his mind or his eyes or his sense of humor, but watching him lose his independence, his dignity, his autonomy was really fucking hard. And not nearly as hard on me as it was on him.

    Last thought: Some old people deserve to live alone and in dangerous conditions, because, like some young people, they’re assholes and have spent decades alienating everyone around them. I know several old women whose children visit rarely, and it’s because they’re nasty old bitches who made their childhoods miserable. The old women don’t remember that part, of course.

    Really last thought: mistermix, you are a good man and are doing the best you can for the lady. Your problem will be solved when she actually breaks her hip, or her arm, and has to be moved somewhere safer. You should feel no guilt about this. Old women break bones. She will remember you kindly.

  25. 25
    xjmueller says:

    When you can’t do simple things like taking out the trash, you’re closer to death. I think that drives a lot of older folks to be foolish with physical activity. I’m not sure why many seniors won’t ask for help, though. I’m 60 and am pretty sure my kids or grand kids will be shoveling the walk for me in the future. That’s assuming they’ll be around to do it…

  26. 26
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    Some of the things that I used to do with little effort in the past have come to require a lot of effort now that I’m in my mid sixties. Parts of my life are gradually becoming more circumscribed. At times that’s difficult to face because it forcibly reminds me of my own mortality. It also opens the abyss of “What will I lose next; my hearing, my mind, my mobility?”

    Refusing help is an admittedly futile act of defiance, but sometimes that’s all the defiance I can muster in the face of a process that is as inevitable as the tide.

  27. 27
    wonkie says:

    Mistermix, Here’s a suggestion. Tell your neighbor that you are tired of living in fear of findig her dead on her driveway and that to help YOU out youwant to drive her to a shoe store so she can buy better shoes. There are flat sturdy old lady shoes around these days that have volcro flaps and nonsip soles. Get her in a pair of those. Then ice her driveway every day.

    Either that, or move her mailboz right up next to her door (but there might be PO rules which prohibit this option).

  28. 28
    Fred says:

    A few years back a neighbor who loved to mow his lawn and tend his garden was advised after his heart attack to take it easy. His wife found him slumped dead over the lawnmower handle a couple years later. Good for him. I can think of a whole lot of worse ways to die than doing something you love to do.
    At 80+ you’re living on borrowed time. Live, live, live till you die!

  29. 29
    Hill Dweller says:

    OT: The WH just released a picture of President Obama shooting skeet at Camp David. Thankfully, the Village can return to their Republican fluffing again.

    The meteor can’t get here fast enough.

  30. 30
    gogol's wife says:


    That’s absolutely it. I sympathize with her utterly. And it’s great that Mistermix is helping her as best he can. No guilt if she takes a dive on the driveway! She did it her way!

  31. 31
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    I lost my old dad last year. He didn’t suffer much, never lost his mind or his eyes or his sense of humor, but watching him lose his independence, his dignity, his autonomy was really fucking hard. And not nearly as hard on me as it was on him.

    Parallels my dad before he passed four and a half years ago at 89. A guy who was once on the Arkansas State Championship basketball team needed my help going up and down five steps from the house to the driveway. The man was a rock for so long, seeing him crumble was absolutely heartbreaking.

  32. 32
    Brachiator says:

    then by extension I’m the worst kind of ageist, an old one

    It’s not ageism. Maybe there’s just another way to look at it.

    Old people break their hips because their bones are old; they lose calcium and flexibility. The risks increase greatly after time. Not much you can do about it to anticipate it or prevent it.

    And most people have their pride. It’s not just stubborness. People want to be independent, they shrug off help. Babies, teens, adults, oldsters, all have the natural urge to say “Let me do it myself!”

    And often they know that no matter how well-seeming, people who offer help (unless they are hired help) cannot be relied on to be there whenever needed or desired.

    And it is one thing to accept the need for care or help when you know (or think) that soon you will be back up and on your feet again. It’s another thing when you have to accept that help means that you are increasingly unable to do things for yourself, when you are coming closer to total disability, and death.

    Sometimes even common sense and a desire to be comforting can sound a bit like “hurry up and die.”

  33. 33

    @red dog: This sounds like my Dad, still lovable and self-reliant at 76. I told him I would help him with the fall clean-up (lots of trees on the lot) and he basically told me to fuck off.

  34. 34
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Hill Dweller:

    This is what passes for a scandal in the Village nowadays?

    I concur. Bring on the meteor, stat!

  35. 35
    wonkie says:

    An old lady of my acquaintance can no longer live in her home. There are six to nine cats left out onher property in he woods. I feed them twice a week. Cat rescues will not take them as they are not friendly (although not feral either). Besides thecat rescues are full. The cats need to be relocated to a barn or shed or porch somewhere where they can live as outdoor cats with regular food and somesort of shelter. Two are chocolot point Siamesse. They will all be spayed or neutered before beig placed. (Tow of the three females are spayed already). This is not an urgent situation, but I am tired of feedig them. Plus the property will be sold in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile the coyotes are picking them off. If any of you live anywhere within a couple of hours of the Puget Sound area and would like some barn cats, let me know.

  36. 36
    JPL says:

    One day I received a phone call from neighbors of my mother-in-law because she was driving her ride on lawn mower fast.
    Imagine threatening to take away the keys from your mother-in-law. lol She was 86 at the time. She was raised during the depression era and would not think of asking for help.
    Shortly there after she moved into an assisted living and for six years had the time of her life. She lived in a nice apartment and the facility had a wonderful dining facility and nightly entertainment.

  37. 37
    Hill Dweller says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I guarantee this won’t satisfy them. Obama said they shot skeet all the time at Camp David. Glenn Kessler will breathlessly demand more pictures to prove skeet shooting happens regularly, else he will start handing out Pinocchios.

  38. 38
    Schlemizel says:

    We showed up at the wifes grandfathers place one day & found he has his 80 year old self up about 45 feet of rickety ladder picking apples! Nothing would dissuade him from doing what he had always done.

    I think it is partly not recognizing how much physical change you have undergone combined with a refusal to admit you may not be as self-sufficient as you once were.

    In my mind I can still run & jump as well as I always could but in reality I know I can’t & never will.

  39. 39

    @red dog: I offer to help out of respect, but I fully acknowledge that it can be a reminder of age. Plus I may need help some day.

  40. 40
    22over7 says:


    Yeah, my dad used to do the same thing, until he fell and hurt himself. I went nuclear on his ass and he finally promised not to get on ladders again. I believe he was 89 or 90 during this episode. Gaaaah!

  41. 41
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Good post.

  42. 42
    satby says:

    Going through a similar ordeal with my 81year old mom, who has been diagnosed with very early dementia. She has always been fiercely independent and the person who helped and drove around her elderly neighbors. She knows what’s ahead and as a result become very sly about telling her doctor and us the full truth about how she is. She blacked out last week in the kitchen; I only found out because I happened to call as she was shakily getting herself together after coming to on the floor. But she fibbed to my sister (I who lives a couple hours away

  43. 43
    J R in W Va says:

    My Dad cared for my Mom at home while she died of COPD from 30-40 years of Pall Malls, which she got hooked on in college, when they would give them away at the football games. She died in her bedroom, in his arms.

    He eventually got COPD from chemo for a rare Leukemia, got dizzy, went to the hospital, where they put him in a very small unit, and 20 feet from the nurses station. Then at 2 am he got out of bed to piss, fell, and broke his leg, needing a hip replacement joint installed.

    They put him in a place where he could have help in 40 seconds, and only had to raise his voice to attract the attention of an RN. There were only like 4 patients in the ward, which was for folks with suppressed immune systems. But he couldn’t push the button, or speak up. He was in there for dizzyness, for FSM’s sake!!!

    I undertook to care for him as he rehabbed, as no nursing home would admit him because his Leukemia was kept in remission only by virtue of taking an experimental drug every day. It was an ordeal. He lived 90 minutes from my home and job.

    We were able to hire a nice lady to stay with him days, and once or twice a week she could stay the night with him. Once a week the wife would go up in the afternoon and spend a night with him, so I could be home alone.

    I had a lot of help… every morning when my helper showed up, I would hit the road, fill up the truck, and get a Red Bull so as to be able to drive safely. After work, I’d get another Red Bull to drive back to Dad’s.

    Eventually I got him to where he could walk with a cane – which he hated! And we got him back to TX where his oncologists were.

    My bro talked him into moving from his little apartment to a very nice assisted living center. His apt was bigger there than his independent apt was. He was out the arm from the nursing/aide station, but they were still pretty available. One night he got up to pee, and fell again, broke the other leg.

    Eventually he couldn’t digest food, and decided that Hospice was his next step. They were saints! His Pakistani Doctor was a saint! They made his last couple of months endurable for all.

    After he dies, the Assisted Living center would not send us a bill for his rent/care – I guess they felt he shouldn’t have fallen on their watch, but it was not their fault – he wouldn’t ask for help.

    Now I’m 62, just like the Beatles song. Married 42 years, together 44 years. Stubborn just like Dad and Mom. Live in the country, a nice single floor plan, except it’s up a flight of stone steps, and miles from town. Oh well, such is life.

  44. 44
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    The thing you folks, who aren’t seniors yet miss, is that aging is a really sneaky thing. You don’t just wake up one morning when you are 70 or 80 and realize that you are old. Your body gives you little messages along the way, but remember, the aging person is on the inside looking outand doesn’t notice. It’s all a matter of perspective, and as we age we don’t really realize it. It’s like when you look at your kids and don’t notice how much they’ve grown because you see them every day. Your cousin, who hasn’t seen them in a year, sees how much bigger they are, but you don’t. So, don’t be too hard on older people who stubbornly keep doing the things they did 30 years earlier. They just haven’t gotten the, “You Are Old” memo. Now, I really need to get going. My 70 year old husband wants to go up on our second story roof to clean the gutters, so I have to be the lookout. With his low blood pressure, he has a tendency to get lightheaded, and you know how that could go.

  45. 45
    mistermix says:

    @22over7: My old man goes on the roof to clean out the gutters every year and he can’t be dissuaded and any discussion is pointless. He will be scrambling around on a roof every Fall, period, the end. Maddening.

  46. 46

    My dad famously fell off the roof of his fishing cabin and broke his back. He drove himself into town to the hospital after crawling to his truck.

    My dad infamously refused to go to the doctor for stomach pains and his appendix burst and perforated. They couldn’t stabilize his bp in surgery and he passed away in 2010.

    My brother and I made a pact to learn from this as we are stubborn people as well.

  47. 47
    bemused says:

    It can be a hard balance between too much hovering over older folks and pointing out some common sense advice to them. My inlaws took a drive down memory lane one spring when they both were in their 80’s, exploring old roads maybe to revisit parking spots from their courting day, heh, and got stuck on a thawing gravel road. They had told no one their plans and had no cell phone then which wouldn’t have helped because cell phone coverage was poor in that rural area then anyway. He thought he may have to walk out to the highway which was a mile or two away but he managed to get unstuck. She was laughing when she told us and kind of dismissed my suggestion they let someone in the family know where they were headed the next time they took a road trip like that. She quit giggling and got it when I said that we would at least like to know where to look for their bodies.

  48. 48
    Mike E says:

    And that driveway was up hill in the snow both ways, am I right? ;-)

    I think this is more a function of ego and how we grow accustomed to it’s integral sway over the competing urges and doubts that conspire to derail day to day life. It’s “the pillar” after age starts to remove functions and faculties; we may yet get there if we’re lucky, or if we’re not careful.

  49. 49
    gbear says:


    I lost my old dad last year. He didn’t suffer much, never lost his mind or his eyes or his sense of humor, but watching him lose his independence, his dignity, his autonomy was really fucking hard. And not nearly as hard on me as it was on him.

    When my father passed away at 80, he suffered great physical pain and was overcome by fear and the helplessness of dying, When he finally lost his ability to take care of himself he was so bitter and angry about it that he was taking steps to write my sister out of his will because she’d placed him in hospice care two weeks before he died. My sister has never forgiven him. Despite our pleas to assure him that he was very much indeed worthy of heaven, I have no idea what his last feelings were. He was stubborn as hell and completely humiliated by the loss of independence.

  50. 50
    azrev says:

    My Dad once pointed out to me that while he has experienced every age that I have been, I have never experienced being the age that he is now. I read that as, “Back off!” and I have. We see the vulnerability of our parents the way we see the vulnerability of our children, all the while overlooking our own.

  51. 51
    Cermet says:

    @mistermix: That was good on answering on the best method for liver upkeep – drinking is something I have desperately desired to do but never been able to develop a taste for anything beer, wine or the hard stuff mixed – wouldn’t be where I am if I had been lucky enough to develop a taste for that stuff – moderate drinking is one of the healthiest things anyone can do – if they have the liver for it.

    I guess she might be feeling guility that she is too cheap to pay you?

  52. 52
    MazeDancer says:

    Self-reliant people get to enjoy life the way they would like it. If given the choice between longer dependent life and shorter self-reliant life, they would choose “holding their own” over “depending on others”.

    While it is upsetting to watch people do dangerous things, it is possibly worse to have people around who expect to have others do everything for them. Needy, whiny, demanding types who don’t understand why the world does not continually revolve around them. While this is understandable in an infant, not so pleasant in actual adults of any age.

    As the decades roll by, knock wood, I hope to do everything myself as long as possible. If I am lucky enough to have – or be able to afford – others to help when that is no longer possible, then I shall be grateful. But it’s not hard to understand not wanting to be a bother, and not asking for help. Which is, of course, a different thing that not having good snow boots or “driveway shoes”. Seems like her family could get her some slip ons with good traction and keep them by the door.

  53. 53
    Digital Amish says:

    My father was 80 years old when my mother found him lying dead on the pile of fire wood he was splitting and stacking. The next day, as the family gathered, the kid Dad bought the firewood from delivered another load. When I explained what had happened I thought the kid was going to cry. He said he’d offered to split and stack the wood and he felt terrible that he hadn’t persisted. I almost laughed as I explained that no amount of persistence would have convinced him to have someone stack his wood (they wouldn’t do it right). That summer we replaced the wood furnace with the electric one we been trying to talk him into for ten years.

  54. 54
    Bago says:

    Hey, even 40 something’s can be cantankerous people. It leads to overdoses.

  55. 55
    Maude says:

    The woman who is the neighbor, another woman ought to take her shopping and buy boots and a coat. The woman taking here would also be buy these same items.
    This is about quality of life. Your father and neighbor both have high qualities of life.
    You see them from your perspective. It prolly isn’t accurate. Someone is going to die when they die.
    Your father and neighbor can gauge if they can do something.

  56. 56
    gbear says:

    @Hill Dweller:

    I guarantee this won’t satisfy them. Obama said they shot skeet all the time at Camp David.

    They won’t be happy until they know that each skeet disc had a human silhouette painted on it.

  57. 57
    MaximusNYC says:

    I’ve always liked these lines from Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”, but I appreciate them more since my dad died and I turned 40:

    “An aged man is but a paltry thing,
    A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
    Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
    For every tatter in its mortal dress…”

    People want to use their time to the fullest.

  58. 58
    22over7 says:


    I am so sorry for your experience. I’m not sure if it’s just Americans, or if it is prevalent in other countries as well, but modern American culture simply cannot deal with death (we watch horror movies instead). We never speak of it, and are offended if anyone dares to bring it up. When I told my husband that we should get wills, he accused me of wanting to murder him. Seriously.

    After a lifetime of denial, the reality will hit you upside the head, and for some, it’s just too much. Better to make peace with the idea and live for the time you have, I think.

  59. 59
    BethanyAnne says:

    I think fear is only part of it. I think she may also not feel needed. Her family doesn’t need her, no job to need her, so she needs to do as much as possible for herself to feel useful. If she had more people in her life, and there was more give and take possible, she’d prolly be less stubborn about taking.

  60. 60
    dance around in your bones says:

    My husband and I went to visit his mother once, and not finding her in the house went out and hollered into the back yard. We heard her answer “Here I am!” but we still couldn’t see her. Finally we started looking up and there she was, up in a tree using a chainsaw to cut off dead branches for firewood. She was 82 at the time.

    She was a tough little old country woman and just kept truckin’ on until she finally died in her bed at home, age 102. She believed Jesus was supporting her every day of her life and I never argued with her about it because BOY could she go on about him. I mean, two hours of sermon-like pep-talks got really exhausting.

    I loved her so much.

  61. 61
    g says:

    I didn’t realize you lived next door to my mother!

    ACtually, your story is frighteningly true. My mother was that 80ish widow in a big suburban house, with the long steep driveway and the heavy garbage bins.

    She did fall one morning in 2008 – thank goodness it was the pick-up morning and not the evening before, because the only person who saw her was the garbage truck driver who came back about a half hour after she fell.

    It was the beginning of a series of falls, and although she had strongly resisted any attempts by us, her kids, to get her to move or even RESEARCH about alternate living arrangements, after the third fall she basically threw up her hands and said, “Do with me what you will.”

    We moved her into an Assisted Living facility that’s a three mile drive from my brother and sister-in-law, and she is fine and happy. Now she’s healthy again, she’s socializing again – and she has an Ipad.

  62. 62
    g says:

    @Hill Dweller:

    OT: The WH just released a picture of President Obama shooting skeet at Camp David. Thankfully, the Village can return to their Republican fluffing again.

    And the Breitbartian conspiracy begins in ten, nine, eight….

    Seriously, Wonkette has it that Breitbartians are objecting to boilerplate copyright language from the WH warning against use or manipulation of the photo. Apparently, they think copyrights infringe their First Amendment rights.

    But I’m sure the blogosphere will be buzzing with gun enthusiasts critiquing Obama’s stance, and speculating that the photo is fake.

  63. 63
    Bob R says:

    People who were relaxed earlier in life can relaxed.

    And intense people become more intense

    Age distills and concentrates. It doesn’t mellow. At all.

  64. 64
    SarahT says:

    For the last 8 months I’ve been personally subsidizing Amtrak in order to deal with my 80-year-old-Mom, her multiple hospitalizations, & health woes, and her awe-inspiring stubborness. This post is wonderful. Thank you.

  65. 65
    Peg says:

    Mistermix, you’re a good guy.

  66. 66
    eemom says:

    This is a very good post.

    The best writing is from the heart.

  67. 67
    J R in W Va says:

    My folks traveled all over the world after they retired, and Dad always kept an eye out for people from West Virginia.

    There’s an old joke about St. Peter giving a new arrival a tour of heaven, and when they saw a beautiful field with a till chain link fence around it, St Pete said, oh, that’s for the West Virginians, they keep trying to go home for the weekend.

    The point of that is that there was a huge outflux of hard working West Virginians into the rest of the country 50 years ago, and where ever you went you could run up against a few Mountaineers, so Dad always looked out for some “cousins” when he was on the road.

    The day my very stubborn Dad died, the hospice folks called the funeral home my bro and I had made arrangements with. The driver was a young guy, and had just started working with the funeral folks, and was a bit apprehensive.

    We were all pretty good, we had done most of our grieving holding Dad’s hand the past couple of weeks. I asked the driver where he was from. He was from the little town of St Albans, West Virginia. Come to take Dad on his last ride. We broke up thinking how proper that was, for Dad to meet a new West Virginian “cousin” on his death bed.

    This was all November of 2004, election day, in fact. I was grateful to my GOP brother for not talking about the unbelievable election results that night. It was a hard day for me.

    We had a memorial picnic come summertime in WV, and poured Mom’s ashes (which he kept in a box beside his bed) and Dad’s ashes into a waterfall they both loved in the hills.

    I’m hoping to be buried in a plain pine box here on the farm. There’s already a small family grave yard in the woods, and I have a backhoe one of the neighbors can use to dig the hole. You don’t need to be embalmed if you don’t want it – they can keep you “on ice”. And then a tree can grow on the plot, just behind the stone.

    It’s snowing here now. Pretty hard, tiny dry cold flakes, and the radar looks like it will keep it up for several hours. I like snow, it covers the mud.

  68. 68
    Violet says:

    Mistermix, you’re a great neighbor and son to help the older folks like you are.

    As for your neighbor, is there any way the mailbox could be moved to her front porch? The mailman would have to get out of the vehicle to deliver the mail, but the neighbor wouldn’t have to walk down the hill. Just a thought.

  69. 69

    True story. A moment that has never really left my mind. My roommate and I had just got up on a Saturday morning. We look outside and see our elderly male neighbor shoveling snow. We say, that’s insane, let’s do it for him. We throw some clothes on, go out, and he’s dead right there on the sidewalk.

  70. 70
    barbara says:

    I’m in my mid-sixties with grey/white hair and in the last couple of years I’ve quite often been offered a seat on the subway. Because I don’t mind standing and I feel sorry for people on the way to work who look exhausted and stressed (while I’m retired) I used to say, no, thanks very much, but I’m fine. But I’ve now realized that actually the polite thing to do is to take the seat and acknowledge the kindness. I think that refusing causes awkwardness and that accepting makes both of us feel good.

  71. 71
    Lavocat says:

    I’ll warrant that it’s in YOUR genes as well, my friend.

    Do NOT go gentle into that good night.

    We’re not stubborn; we’re just playing chicken with Death.

    And each day we make it through to the next is a day we can laugh and tell Death, “Fuck you, not today. Not today.”

  72. 72
    gelfling545 says:

    Age doesn’t mellow us. It distills & concentrates our personality traits. Until you have had to do it yourself you cannot realize how painful every small sacrifice of one’s independence can be.

  73. 73
    bemused says:

    It’s frustrating when the older person in your life does things that their younger relatives think are dangerous, foolish and wouldn’t do themselves. A couple of years ago we had a hard time convincing 93 year old fil not to climb up on the two story with a scary pitch to fix something even when it was coming from his sons almost 40 years younger.

  74. 74
    NotMax says:

    Getting the mail is a job. Not employment, mind you, but a job (in the sense of a chore).

    And she would seem to view the job be done a particular way and on a specific schedule.

    If you have taken on doing what is otherwise her job, you owe it to her to do it her way and phone her if you are going to be completing it late.

    Volunteering and doing unpaid work for those who are not by circumstance dependent are great, but also too is remembering who is the subordinate in the flow chart.

    It may be a comfort to her to keep tight regularity – say, for instance, having tea at a certain hour while perusing the mail, and if the mail is late then that potentially throws the rest of her self-imposed schedule off.

  75. 75
    cckids says:

    A former neighbor, also elderly, would get indignant when I would try to help him, but gladly accept help when I’d flog the teenagers over to do it.

    I guess from me it was charity, from them it was “building character”. He was a sweet old guy & lots of fun.

  76. 76
    Genine says:


    Yes, I’m in a situation where my mother is an asshole who abused me. But now she’s an old asshole and I’m her only child. There really isn’t any family and what little there is has minimal contact with her. And she has people she plays cards with at her senior center but few (if any) friends.(Because she’s an ass. :-))

    It’s a hard situation. I mean I’ll do what I need to do. She’s my mother. I rarely visit her. Of course she has NO idea why I won’t visit her. After all, she’s a good Christian woman who has done the best she could. She’s been a good mother and no one can tell her otherwise. I’m just evil, ugly and black-hearted. I’m God’s punishment to her for her past sins. I am touched by Satan. She’ll never know why God saw fit to give her such a fat, no-good daughter but she loves me anyway because she’s a good person. And why won’t I visit her more often? LOL

    I have friends that tell me to let her reap what she sows but I can’t do that. Luckily she’s still mobile and can do for herself. If that changes, she’s going in a home where she can live out her years. I’m really not inclined to do anymore than that. (And, knock on wood, I won’t have to.)

    I have elderly friends that I help and do things for. I feel guilty about that sometimes. I don’t want to do more for my own parent. On the other hand, they don’t abuse me either so there’s that. But the inner conflict can be crazy-making.

  77. 77
    eemom says:

    @J R in W Va:

    What a lovely story.

    I live in Northern VA, have spent a fair amount of time in your state over the years. We own a little cabin on a mountain called Kyle Knob near the town of Franklin. It is VERY rustic but has a kickass view.

  78. 78
    danielx says:


    Had the same exact experience with my late mother-in-law. She was still going up on the roof to clean out the gutters when she was 75, using the same rickety-ass extension ladder that damn near killed me when it went out from under me when I was using it to do something for her. Made my spouse and her sisters so made they practically gobbled, particularly since she did it whether anybody else was there to help or not.

    I’m nowhere near 75 and I’m already wondering how long I’ll be able to clean out my own gutters. Two stories is a long drop.

  79. 79
    TG Chicago says:


    Sounds like she feels guilty for not being able to pay you. So I guess that then calling you and asking would just double the guilt for her!

    This sounds right, and it gives me an idea: give her a way to repay you. Not monetarily, of course, but think of something she can do and ask her to do it for you in return for the driveway duty.

    Maybe she can mend your socks or bake you cookies or offer feedback on your blog posts or something. I dunno. Just something that she can do relatively easily and safely that will help her feel like she’s not getting something for nothing.

  80. 80
    JoyfulA says:

    Sometimes our elders do things they shouldn’t because others don’t do things right. Fifteen years ago, I gave my father (then age 76) a gift certificate from a lawn care outfit, and my siblings and I have pressed this issue ever since, from doing the quarter-acre ourselves to hiring others. Only last year did he admit he couldn’t manage the job anymore, but oh how he complained about the sloppy trim around the lilac bush, etc.

    I bought him a lightweight electric mower. After the hired help mows, he plugs in his mower and trims it the way he wants it, and he’s happy. He’s doing the chore himself, in a way, and doing it the way he wants it done. Unfortunately, he’s figured out that the thing will also function as a snow-blower, so he doesn’t have to wait for the snow shoveler to show up if it’s only a light snow. At least my parents’ driveway is flat.

    So they’re 91 and 88 and living independently in the house they bought new in 1956. They’re in better health than I am, and they’re among the last to get old-school pensions that provide more income than they can spend. My father still drives well and prudently doesn’t go beyond the two-mile range of supermarket, drugstore, seniors’ early-bird specials restaurants, and church. And still we hover.

  81. 81
    Mnemosyne says:

    @J R in W Va:

    When my father was dying in the hospital in Phoenix, my mom called the hospital chaplain to come do a quick absolution while she looked for a Catholic priest to do Catholic last rites. It turned out that the chaplain was from my dad’s suburban Chicago hometown and recognized our last name.

    Small, small world sometimes.


    I think that’s part of what other people have been saying — if you send your teenagers over to help, your elderly neighbor feels like they’re helping you with your child rearing and not just getting something for nothing, which is what it would be if you did it yourself.

  82. 82

    A week ago I had to talk my mother out of the idea that two 86yo women should drive 45 miles on Valentines day in N MI to a doctor appointment. I pointed out that I’d moved 2200 mi to be useful. If she wants to go out x-country skiing and kill herself; I don’t mind if she goes out doing what she wants – as long as she doesn’t take out someone else with her – like driving in the slop snow 45 mi.

    Something is going to get everyone of us and it seems better to me to get it while doing something you want to do. Breathing just isn’t that damned important to me.

  83. 83
    trollhattan says:

    The notion that age “mellows” people, whatever that means, is nothing more than a sentimental lie. These two octogenarians are as stubborn at 80 as they were at 50, or 30, if not more so.

    Having gone through this with grandparents, parents and now in-laws, I have a somewhat different take–their social filters drop away and their true core personality traits come through (excluding brain damage from strokes, Alzheimer’s etc.). I have heard mind-boggling utterances from the older set: a lot of it mean, a lot of it obscene.

    Kindly old folks were kind younger folks.

  84. 84
    peorgietirebiter says:

    The notion that age “mellows” people, whatever that means, is nothing more than a sentimental lie

    Tirebiter at 60 is a far more mellow version. i think it has to do with my expectarions for the people around me. These days, I readily accept their “shortcomings” as a natural part of the human condition. Unfortunately, the expectations for myself remain fairly unrealistic. I’ll die struggling with an oil an drain bolt.

  85. 85
    MazeDancer says:


    You are so very not alone in your situation. Though that does nothing to make it any different.

    Despite how common this situation is, like all childhood abuse, society would often rather pretend it didn’t happen. So, sometimes having to deal with a lifetime abusive, now elder parent, even after long years of happy adulthood and keeping healthy distance, revives the old rabbit hole condition of it’s your job to pretend nothing happened, everything’s fine.

    It is good your friends don’t understand why you would do anything for an abuser. The chorus of “but she’s your mother” or “but he’s your father” from those who have no idea or can’t comprehend abuse is usually loud. Especially when the abusers were “pillars of society” types outwardly.

    Take care of yourself. And applause for keeping your boundaries where they need to be.

  86. 86
    HelloRochester says:

    My grampa is a deluded old gliberteatardian (I need some epithet that captures “Ayn Rand-worshiping atheist with a shit ton of people-killing guns and a Gadsden Flag, but who has belonged to a union for 65 years, enabling him to have a handsome retirement”) with a lifetime subscription to Reason magazine and the NRA who serves as the family’s McArglebargle. Count yourself lucky that your neighbor lady is only guilty of non-sensible shoes and also consider that she might be hoping for a fall so that her kids come over and do what you do for her.

  87. 87
    Sgaile-beairt says:

    genine you might find the ‘Disfunctional Families Day” threads at Making LIght helpful, that youre not, alone, at all….

  88. 88
    mary says:

    @MomSense: I agree with MomSense. It seems to me that people, as they age, become more truly themselves. If they are by nature, kind and good-natured, they become moreso. If they are angry and envious, they,unfortunately, become almost unbearable.

  89. 89
    Ruckus says:

    My dad had Alzheimers and for a while my sister took care of him. When she had to change him and wipe his ass, seeing at the look of shame on his face that he could no longer do this for himself was one of the worse experiences I have ever had. This was when he was 82.
    As a child in my early 60s who is seeing myself slow down a bit, and with both parents having had Alzheimers I’m not sure I’m looking forward to growing a whole lot older. I do understand the feeling of having to do as much as possible on my own because that is the way I was raised.
    How do you change that as you get older and less able?

  90. 90
    mai naem says:

    @trollhattan: Yep, whatever traits you had when you were younger are going to get distilled. If you were a nasty ahole, you’re going to be even more of a nastier ahole. If you were borderline OCD you are going to be totally OCD when you’re older. If you were a tightwad, you’re going to become even stingier.

  91. 91
    dance around in your bones says:

    You know, I’m not totally on board with the “people become more truly themselves’ or ‘whatever traits you had intensify’ as you become older.

    Totally anecdotal, but my best friend has a mother who was a complete bitch when my friend was growing up and into adulthood. Just always putting her and her brother down, bitchy to all her friends, just an altogether nasty person. Christ, she even smoked in high-end sushi bars and cussed out the people who complained. (I was there).

    Anyhoo, as she got older and frailer she mellowed out and now doesn’t even remember being such a pill. She’s now in an assisted living home, my friend is the only surviving relative to take care of her (the rest have all died), and all “Mom” remembers is “I was always a kind and loving person”. My friend has to stifle her snorts of disbelief while she cleans up the poop “Mom” leaves in trails across the room she lives in.

    Luckily, my friend is a committed Buddhist who takes things as they come with equanimity. She wonders what happened to that nasty woman she grew up with, but is happy her mom doesn’t truly remember how awful she was in the past. That’s for my friend to deal with now and in the future, once her mom checks out.

    On the other hand, my gramma – who was a lovely kind woman from South Carolina, remained a lovely kind woman even after she got Alzheimer’s, even though she couldn’t remember her son or her grandchildren once she got to the nursing home. I remember her saying once “The most wonderful young man came here today and drove me all around the town” – not realizing that ‘the wonderful young man’ was her oldest son.

    Jeebus, getting old can suck donkey balls.

  92. 92
  93. 93
    Ruckus says:

    @dance around in your bones:

    Jeebus, getting old can suck donkey balls.

    No shit.

  94. 94
    dance around in your bones says:


    And there ain’t jack shit you can do about it. Like you often say, FIDO. Right until the end, whenever that might be.

  95. 95
    Genine says:


    Yes, I am VERY familiar with the “But she’s your mother…” guilt trip. For a long time I felt a lot of guilt and conflict about it. But several years ago I came across some websites for children of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (she has the paranoia, lack of empathy and self-aggrandizement) and Borderline Personality Disorder and it was great to see was not alone and that there were others who either cut off or had minimal contact with their families because of the craziness. My friends were always supportive but it was hard because they were close or had normal relationships with their parents. So while they understood to a certain extent I felt they couldn’t understand completely. But I was grateful for their support and random strangers on the internet in the same situation.


    Thanks for telling me about the thread. I looked it up and it’s great. It’s very important to have an outlet like that. There’s a difference between “Oh, my god! My mother is crazy. She drives me nuts!” and “My mother (father, legal guardian) is crazy- and abusive. Seriously.”

  96. 96
    Ruckus says:

    I am actually amazed when I find someone with supportive, accepting, loving parents.

  97. 97
    Genine says:


    Yes, it is amazing and wonderful to behold.

  98. 98
    Ex Regis says:

    Get some concrete, shovels, posts, and railing material. Maybe a hundred bucks or two. Take a few days and build her a railing along the driveway down to her mailbox. It doesn’t matter if she or her feet get cold. What matters is that she gets her own mail. On her own schedule. She’ll tell you no. Ignore her. The emotional pain dissipates quickly as the utility sets in. Maybe let her pay you. Tell her it’s getting inconvenient for you to get her mail and maybe she can do it herself.

    Assisted living comes in many forms. I know. As a 70-year-old I’m getting there and look for little angles all the time.

  99. 99
    virag says:

    this should be a sticky.

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