Jeff Ackerman: Whose shoulders will senior citizens lean on? |

Jeff Ackerman: Whose shoulders will senior citizens lean on?

There were maybe a couple of hundred people gathered at Memorial Park in Grass Valley Monday to honor those who have died serving our country. Most of those in attendance were gray-haired (the few remaining hairs I have fall into that category). Some had walkers and canes. Most wore glasses, recognizing that the invention of Lasik surgery came far too late to be a practical use for a Social Security check.

Older Americans tend to be more patriotic than young Americans. Maybe you simply develop a deeper sense of gratitude with age. But I can’t help wonder how grateful many of our older Americans can really be today as they see the things they need most – medical care, transportation, protection from the scum who prey on them – become less and less available. One elderly man stood near me at the podium, explaining to a friend that his wife could not make it to the Memorial Day services because she had fallen down at home and was rehabilitating at a local medical facility.

The scary part is that we are nowhere near ready for the baby boomers who are officially categorized as senior citizens now. I got my first “senior discount” not long ago, and it was not nearly as fun as the day I got my first legal beer in a bar or the day I got my driver’s license. In fact, because we are all living longer, many new senior citizens are still taking care of their own senior-citizen parents. If this keeps up, we’ll need to raise the definition of “senior citizen” to 75 or so. I play in a senior citizen softball league where 50-year-olds qualify. That doesn’t seem quite right to me. I say that if you are sitting in the outfield humming a tune from Led Zeppelin, you probably should not be playing senior softball. I can imagine living in a retirement home 10 years from now where they are blasting Pink Floyd or Black Sabbath into the cafeteria as we pound prunes into our toothless mugs. That’s quite a different picture of “head-banging,” if you ask me.

Unfortunately, we all need someone to lean on, and one day soon there will be more leaners than available shoulders. I suspect most of us will be looking to our children for help when the time comes, but … well … who wants to spend the afternoon in a retirement home that blasts Janis Joplin while trying to explain to mom and dad that Jimmy Hendrix is still dead?

I already told my kids to make sure I’m heavily medicated at all times and that all I’ll really need is a new i-Pod every two or three years. I’ve got no problem at all hanging out on a porch with a morphine drip and some heavy metal ripping into my hearing aides. As a matter of fact, I’m ready whenever they are.

A friend and co-worker of mine lost both of his parents last week. His father died first, and his mother followed just a few days later. They had lived a combined 160 years or so. The remarkable thing about their passing, at least to me, was that they died in their son’s home. When their health started to fail, he’d taken them into his Nevada City home that he already shared with his wife and 4-year-old son. What made that remarkable is that you just don’t see that much in America today. It’s not like it was on the farm, where generations lived and died under the same roof. We are a scattered family unit these days, and it’s much easier to send mom and dad to an “assisted living” facility, where they are also very good at assisted dying. My friend’s son was able to spend some special time with his grandparents during their final days on Earth and I suspect he’ll always have a deeper appreciation for life, and death, as a result of that experience. I think we tend to protect our children too much from death, which is why many younger people have no real concept of the reality, or finality, of death.

Planning, I suppose, is the key to dying. Without a plan, there is chaos when the end finally comes. Especially when other family members and their lawyers start to fight over the remains, or the remains of the remains. Most of us probably don’t have a plan beyond the typical morphine drip and heavy metal wishes that I expressed earlier (and I encourage my kids to refer to this column as a binding legal document). To that end (get it?), I encourage you all to contact a lawyer to ensure that you have a good “exit strategy” when the time comes to exit this wonderful world. For the right percentage, lawyers are good at helping to ensure things continue to run smoothly after you are incapacitated by morphine and rock ‘n roll, something that is starting to sound better and better every second.

So, in the words of Morgan Freeman in the “Shawshank Redemption,” get busy living or get busy dying.

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