Just as our bodies fail us, so do our minds and our personalities. Our charm gets frayed, or takes a few hours off, or leaves us altogether. Or the glitz which made the more determined aspects of our personalities less pointed and uncomfortable has fallen away, like paint from a splintery bench. We’re isolated. The difficulties of minor tasks get exhausting. Small mishaps make us irritable. Dropping things gets to be a chronic condition. Our patience has worn thin, along with our skin and hair, finances and near everything else. And what used to be a simple matter of bending over and picking the thing back up is now something more like snagging the prize with one of those toy scoops. But the energy expenditure is enormous. The small envelope you dropped weighs but several ounces, but getting yourself down and up can be a matter of lifting several hundred pounds. Each new day, an hour or two in, and you begin to mutter that you are “too old for this!”
The younger bunch blaze ahead heedless. The wisdom which has taken you so much time and effort to assemble is well… “outdated”, as if you were a floppy disc. Having to explain things to someone who is not interested would seem to be a fool’s errand. “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.” Young people will agree with this statement and repeat it – to the elderly. The ironies of life just pile up, as you age. It should be fodder for the evening news: “Three irony pile-up on the Interstate this afternoon.”
And along with the humiliation of age comes the paranoia. It isn’t uncommon for older people to turn on their caregivers, or accuse the helpful relative of stealing, when in truth it’s the elderlys’ faulty memory. It’s not uncommon for a particularly willful and irascible spirit to expunge dutiful children, who have cared for them for years, from of their wills only to be infatuated by strangers, the ingratiating carpetbagger, a sympathetic acquaintance, neighbor, or give everything to some sketchy charity or balmy vision, or perhaps even some fellow they met in a bar.
Or the relations, friends and caregivers (even that ‘fellow in the bar’) might be taking advantage, being abusive or even stealing. It’s not paranoia if it’s really happening! The elderly can easily end resenting everybody and everything who had anything to do with them before they died. Or they can die, befuddled, bruised, or kicked out into the snowy cold, but still loving and revering the villains who took them for a cleaning. If your memory were just better, you could keep it all straight or sort it out.
What’s especially fun is arguing with your mate about what ‘actually happened’, when neither of you accurately remembers. It can swallow the few remaining years.
Dying isn’t easy. It’s a catastrophe. There is no fix. It’s the final loss of all control. It’s the universe making a pie of you. You’re gonna be something’s dinner, even if you’re of the progressive sort and are buried in burlap with mulch and an apple seed. It’s humiliating. And getting old is the humiliation express. Next stop the hospital. It’s life’s effort to completely wear you out, discharge that last bit of energy, spend the last ray of hope, nullify all desire, and prevent coherent thought and speech. Your body will be in the hi-anxiety of total disarray with all systems failing, while your audience is scouring your slurred words and facial demeanor for those life lessons of wisdom, patience and universal love. That priceless gift which only a life well lived can give.
Well, it may have to come from somewhere beyond the grave, or perhaps in some sleeping visitation. Or maybe someone will just have to make this shit up! Because getting old is like an avalanche and very hard to tip toe through with charm. We are drowning people clutching for a life ring. “Getting old is not for sissies,” Art Linkletter once said.
The good news is that, from my experience with loved ones and friends, most go out as the same person they lived from day to day. If your wife doesn’t like your tie, she’ll probably still want to change it for the funeral. If you were kind of mum in life, you’ll most likely die silently or with a whisper. Or, if the emotionally volatile sort, expect lots of flower and tears – especially if big money is involved. You’re choosing your last words and the ‘death spin’ now as you read this – and don’t even know it. Ha, ha!
Okay. Enough said. Thanks for your time. I realize that I can be a little grouchy. (It’s the cancer… very painful.) Just thank your lucky stars that I didn’t start talking about my last talk with the doctors! It’s good of you to stop by. Be seeing you. Could you close that door firmly on your way out? It has a tendency to swing back open.
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