We also have a sorely misguided idea of what it means to help older people. When my father and I went to vote in 2010, he was having trouble getting from car to polls and back.
I vividly remember he stopped to rest three times — each for successively shorter periods of under a minute — I timed them.
To me they showed normal aerobic recovery progress in a former runner who had succumbed to gluteus immobilis in response to some health issues.
But you should have seen the looks I got. Heartless bitch daughter! Why aren’t you helping him?
That word again. Help.
Why are you making him walk when he obviously can’t make it? Shouldn’t he have some support, a wheelchair or a walker?
Not if he was going to get any strength back.
He went to the gym to start working with a trainer. Afraid he might fall, she took his money and they drank coffee for the hour.
And so it went.
At 82 my father worked out three days a week and strode into nursing homes, past residents his age and younger, to measure and bid on their kitchens.
At 83 he was in a car crash from which he recovered well enough to do one last job — the only apartment project in Missouri for all of 2011.
It was a HUD project.
But by then he was in the hands of the helpers, whose desire to avoid liability for falls greatly exceeded their sense of mission in returning my father to any semblance of fitness.
Not having known him pre-crash, I’m sure they thought my brother and me delusional about his physical condition just a year before.
So despite my instructions to push him and my emphatic willingness to hold helpers harmless, they helped as they chose and as our culture demands.
They helped him, all right.
Into intractable gluteus immobilis.
Into the fall they kept warning me about, with a broken neck (again, he healed!)
Into the nursing home.
Into the grave.