[Author’s Note: My mother, Betty Clark, recently passed away shortly after her 100th birthday. I wrote this blog article, My Visit with Mom, in 2018, after a series of visits with her. I am re-publishing this article in honor of my wonderful, loving, gentle mom, who was an important influence on making me the person I am, including my appreciation for laughter. – TEJ]
Recently, I flew across the country from Seattle to my hometown of Albany, New York, to spend a few days with my elderly mother. While my father died relatively young (at age 64 – a year older than I am now), my mom is like the Energizer Bunny. At 97, she keeps going and going and going.
Well, maybe not exactly. She now needs hearing aids in both ears, her short-term memory has declined significantly, and she is legally blind, able only to make out shapes and colors but with no detail. And she needs a wheelchair to make it any further than two feet. But otherwise, she is doing amazingly well.
While my mother knew I was coming to town, she kept forgetting exactly which day I’d be arriving. So, when I knocked on her room door at the nursing home facility, I entered the room only identifying my presence by saying “Special Delivery for Betty.” She got momentarily confused, not knowing who was calling on her.
I proclaimed I had a special order of Peanut M&M’s (her favorite candy), but she was still unsure about who was bringing her this surprise. She guessed a few names before I gave her a hint: “It’s your fourth son, Tim!” Suddenly, she lit up like a Christmas tree and hugged me like my visit was the return of the prodigal son.
Her fragile frame, once 5’3”, now barely reaches 5’. But her smile is still radiant. I would be visiting her for the next six days, and all I wanted to do was be there with her and to hopefully add a little sunshine for a few precious days.
Medical experts are scratching their heads as another individual has mysteriously passed away this week. Newspapers the world over shared the sad news that the World’s Oldest Person has just died. This is the latest in a rash of similar news stories. Just last month, Besse Cooper, at the time the World’s Oldest Person, died quietly in her bed at a Monroe, Ga. nursing home. She was a spry 116 years old.
Sadly, barely two weeks later, another sweet woman, Dina Manfredini, from Johnston, Iowa, who with Besse’s passing had become the reigning World’s Oldest Person, barely had time to enjoy her newly bestowed crown before she too passed away, at the age of 115.
Dina’s heir apparent’s tenure as World’s Oldest Person was seemingly every bit as brief as Dina’s, because last week this shocking headline appeared: Koto Okubo Dead: World’s Oldest Woman Dies at 115. The accompanying report described a frail, quiet Japanese woman who passed away peacefully in her sleep at her nursing home, barely having had time to thank the awards committee before she too fell victim to this unbroken curse.
The passing of Koto Okubo opened the way for Ingrid Jørgensen, a retired school crossing guard from Trondheim, Norway, to win the coveted title of World’s Oldest Person at the relatively young age of just 114. Ms. Jørgensen is reportedly feeling rather uncomfortable with the news of her achievement, insisting it must be an accounting error. She claims her neighbor Heidi Fjelstad is several months older than she and therefore is the person who should be recognized, not her. (Norwegians are notoriously modest.)
Until now, there has been scant evidence that any government leaders or world scientists have made any efforts to combat this outbreak, which cruelly appears to target only the very oldest and most frail among us. Lest anyone think the latest deaths are isolated coincidences, Nate Silver, the uber-statistician who correctly picked all 50 states in last year’s presidential election, places the odds that the current World’s Oldest Person will die within the next twelve months at 97.5%. Friends of Norway’s Ingrid Jørgensen have reportedly urged her not to put off her once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Greece until next summer.
Millions of senior citizens are up in arms, arguing that this health crisis has been ignored for far too long. The AARP pointed out recently that the United States spends billions of dollars on wars in the Middle East but has invested almost nothing to try to stop the revolving door of World’s Oldest Persons falling prey to the Grim Reaper.
Recent World’s Oldest Person honorees like Besse, Dina and Koto have tended to be shy about shining the spotlight on this global crisis. They tend not to complain, which may be in part due to the fact they’re deceased. But AARP representatives are urging Americans to fight for these helpless elderly victims and are asking people to write their congressperson to demand that they find a cure once and for all for this mysterious affliction that is targeting the most senior of our senior citizens.
As one AARP spokesperson bluntly put it, “Our leaders must stop turning a blind eye as our World’s Oldest Persons continue to die off one by one. If we don’t do something about it, eventually all of us may suffer the same fate.”
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by sharing it on Facebook, posting a comment or giving it a. Remember, for every person that shares this post, I will donate a dollar to the Tim Jones Foundation to find a cure to save our World’s Oldest Persons from meeting a tragic fate. So please share generously.
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013