I was in my early thirties when I met the Delany Sisters, who were, at the time, 100 and 102. I was blessed to have several years with them as trusted writer, confidant, and keeper of their stories. I’ve also written about (and spent a lot of time with) a Native American Elder named Marion “Strong Medicine” Gould, now 92 years old; and a Holocaust survivor, Amalie Petranker Salsitz, who died several years ago at age 80.
I was blessed, also, to come from a family where women tended to live a long time, including my Dad’s mother who lived to 101.
In other words, I have a lot of experience with older women.
When it comes to older men, however, I’m pretty much a newbie. When my dad turned 90 in March, it began to really hit me that this is a different ballgame.
Case in point: when my mother, who is 88, needs to go to the doctor, she makes a list in advance and even researches the topic on the Internet. Like every other older woman I’ve ever known, she will go to the doctor when necessary and is prepared to ask questions.
But when Dad goes to the doctor and is asked how he’s doing, he says, “Fine, thank you.”
If the doctor persists and says something along the lines of, “Then why are you here?” the response from Dad is vague: “Well, I have an appointment” or “my daughter brought me.”
He refuses to offer details. Why? Because, as he tells me later, he doesn’t want to sound like a whiner. He’s a World War Two veteran and in his generation complaining was out of the question.
Thus, the very most he will say to the doctor is, “I’m doing pretty good for an old gentleman.”
At this point Mom will speak up. “Tell the doctor what you told me this morning,” she will say.
And Dad will reply, “Oh, that. Well I feel much better now.”
Mom will then throw her hands up in the air. And yours truly, their youngest child, steps up to the plate.
“Dad!” I will say. “You must tell the doctor how you feel!”
“But I feel fine,” Dad replies.
Meanwhile, the doctor starts looking at his watch. And, whether Dad likes it or not, I feel compelled to describe Dad’s symptoms to the doctor. Dad is only slightly miffed that I rat him out. (Dad has never been one to get angry; at most, he gets indignant.)
Since these encounters I’ve become aware of a pattern. When I speak to other women, they say that their husband, father, or brother tends to do the same only it gets worse the older they are.
Come to think of it, my husband, while much younger than my dad, tends to be unforthcoming when he goes to the doctor.
Is it any wonder that women live longer? Or, am I being unfair? What has your experience been with older men compared to older women? I’d love your input.