I’ve been writing and thinking a lot lately about getting old. It’s because it happens so damned fast.
I love to read advice columns about how to deal with those you love who are suffering from the terminal condition of old age. The columnists are always of a younger generation. So it’s, how to deal with Mom and Dad, never how to deal with ME. So, here’s a hint to those writers, it will soon be you. Sooner than you think!
It’s sort of like the gravestones that say something silly like always in our hearts. Always? Folks, heed me carefully, for none of us is there an always. Better to write something more honest when composing messages for those stones. Something akin to always in our hearts when WE were alive. Only the stones are eternal and often they don’t survive in the same shape as they were born either.
It’s not just my husband’s very recent 80th birthday that got me to thinking about age. It’s just about everything. How I look and how I think. I do repeat myself. I know it. As the words come pouring out of this or that story, I often ask these days, did I tell you this already? Or, in its reverse, did I forget to tell you?
I write down appointments now. Probably it was always a good idea but now it’s an imperative.
And the stairs. In recent memory I despised elevators and easily climbed up 8 floors. Now elevators are my friends. I can’t climb more than 3 stories and that’s an effort. I know. It’ll get worse! That’s the real meaning of old age. Whatever is bad gets worse.
Oh, and the dying! My peers and I are getting close. Doctor visits are replacing careers. Medicines line the shelves and those handy little plastic pill cases are filling up fast. Do the pills relate well to each other? Not always. And worst of all, dying at our age, at my age, is no longer a tragedy. It’s a shrug.
Is there something good I can say about getting old? My mother z”l used to quote Robert Browning’s famous words: grow old along with me; the best is yet to be. Was he ever wrong! And my mother, whose final days were not so easy, used to chuckle at her innocence when she quoted Browning. Often, she learned, the best is what was, not what will be.
I guess one of the hardest things is that making plans is entering such an unknown arena. I really admire people my age who plan a trip for a year hence. Sure they can take insurance but they never expect to use it. It’s all worked out. They’re going on that cruise. Period. Will life intervene? They think not. I’m not so sure!
So, what’s it all about, these lives we lead. For sure they’re complicated. And oh so hard to evaluate. Can’t really do that until it’s over since curved balls are everywhere. So, I can say, now, today, that my father z”l had a good life. Even a great life! He had a glorious and long lasting marriage and lived to enjoy numerous great-grandchildren. He lived in good health, without glasses or dentures, until almost 98. He endured no chronic illnesses nor any tragedies. In his 90s he climbed stairs, read and watched basketball games on TV and walked endlessly in the hot Israeli sun. And he was the eternal optimist. Unlike this daughter! Life never let him down.
But I’ve known others who’ve seemed to have it all and then, suddenly, something horrific happens. Bad things are always happening. Things that suddenly change a good life into a sad life.
So we all roll with the punches and try to come back for more. Getting old is not the problem. Getting old is the destination. But why does it have to happen so damned fast?