Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finger Clippings

My grandfather fell last week. He was on a job (yes, that's right, he still works two or three days a week) and slipped, breaking his right hip. He went to the hospital, had surgery, and now is recovering in a place that specializes in "transitions." I visited him yesterday, his 95th birthday, and brought the nail clippers I'd promised to bring the previous day.

His fingernails were long and yellow. He struggled to squeeze the clippers enough to cut through the hard nails. I finally asked if I could do it. I took his left hand and set it in mine, palm down. Finger by finger, I trimmed his nails, careful to catch the clippings in my hand.

"Don't save those," he said. "Drop them on the floor. They'll sweep them up."

I did as ordered.

Both my mom's dad and my dad's mom still live in their own respective houses. I wonder if that's key to their longevity and mental acuity: while they get some help from their families and neighbors, they are still responsible for themselves. But every year--maybe every day--they give up some little piece of autonomy. My grandfather's fingernails looked like they hadn't been touched in months.

It's easy to think that because they're more dependent, because their physical self has changed so much, their mind and thoughts have likewise diminished. But surely this isn't the case. Grandpa got quite a few visitors yesterday. One asked if he was chasing all the nurses on the floor. He replied, smiling, "They're chasing me."


george rede said...

Sweet little vignette, with a great kicker quote at the end.

Your grandfather sounds like quite a guy. Still working at 95? And an impish sense of humor? Good for him. Hope he recovers soon.

Andy said...

My paternal grandmother lived in her own house until she was 88 years old -- sold it after my grandfather passed away. She moved to a retirement community in Sharonville. Had an independent living apartment. Her mind was sharp, but her body eventually started to fail. Such progressive physical decline forced her into assisted living. I think losing that sense of independence really affected her. The will to live seemed to diminish. She eventually passed away in nursing care.

Seeing a loved one spend their final years in institutional living has underscored my own belief that the quality of life is more important than just the act of living.

I love the fact that your grandfather still works and keeps active at 95. Having purpose is a key facet of staying in the game. Hope he makes a full recovery and can get back to enjoying life.