‘How’m I doin’?’ in Late Life Is What Needs to Get Out There!

Written by Bette Dewing on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Opinion Our Town, Opinion West Side Spirit, Our Town, West Side Spirit.


My back is killing me. But before you ask, “What happened?” please offer some words of empathy and understanding. That little-known “rule” has general application.

Preventing aching backs and most physical woes demands that we stand up every 20 minutes or so and move around. For some, age-related problems and waning strength make that difficult or impossible. Ah, but these aging symptoms need far more general understanding. However, to reduce the sitting time this week, I did a kind of stream-of-consciousness column that didn’t require poring over reference material. It was almost finished when I remembered to get up—again—and when I turned on the news, I learned that former Mayor Ed Koch had departed this life.

So much for the column just written. I worried when last night’s news said our three-term former mayor was on a respirator in New York Presbyterian’s intensive care unit. The reporter also recalled the 88-year-old’s last decade of major illnesses: a stroke, a heart attack and heart and prostate surgeries. That’s a lot, but not uncommon at that age.

Koch was famous for asking “How’m I doin’?” Now I wish that in recent years, he had talked about how he was really doin’ with these critical, often age-related diseases. It would have helped raise awareness and find better ways to prevent and treat them. And above all, it would have given the public at large more understanding and maybe more empathy for what it’s like to be old, even for someone as renowned, active and advantaged as Ed Koch.

We need more old people out there in the public eye. Koch was a regular on an NY1 weekly political panel; he was a player; he went every day to his law office, maybe even by subway or bus. But I doubt that the new documentary Koch says much about his late years.

His late years have been largely ignored in the lengthy obituaries that have appeared, which is something I am really trying to change. Another glaring example of this type of oversight was in the tributes to Pauline “Dear Abby” Phillips, whose last ten years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease got little more than a mention. Ten years! Who knew? Obits mentioned she’d supported the civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights movements. But has her family worked for more research for the still-underfunded brain-failure cause?

Are they protesting the really offensive Betty White NBC sitcoms depicting elders as dirty old women and dirty old men playing disgusting pranks on young people? Is anyone? In one relatively mild “prank,” two elder women asked young men on the street to settle the argument of who’s the best kisser. The young men quickly backed away and burst out laughing.

Real-life elders often try to help young people, but that’s not something the media ever show. Even the president’s grandmother got little mention at the Inaugural ceremony, although many approving comments were made about the Obamas’ daughters standing next to her. Nothing was said about the need for close grandparents. These are some reasons why I so often write about elder inequities, which some say I do too often. In truth, it is not done often enough.

And so we will miss you, Ed Koch, and we’ll miss seeing an old face on the tube, and hearing an old voice of experience (not that many of us left). And you did love New York, and New York is a better place for it. And we are grateful.

dewingbetter@aol.com

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