I am still quite young and healthy. People generally find me quite attractive. I can use and abuse my body in many ways and frequently do. I have energy. I have things to do. I have ambitions. I run around here, there and everywhere. I am bright, intelligent and inquisitive. The world is still my oyster. But what about when it’s not? What when my skin is leathery and wrinkled? What when my lovely tattoos are just dark stains covered in moles? Will people still find me attractive then? What if I have aches and pains every time I move? What if my energy has gone and it hurts too much to get out of my seat often? What if I do achieve some ambitions but run out of energy or lack the physical capacity to do any more? What if my mind becomes as slow as my aging body; or slower? What if I lose my interests and my vitality? What if I am left alone in a home dependent on the care and charity of others?
Old age is almost as taboo as death. We don’t speak about it much and probably try not to think too much about how it will affect us personally. I have had to. My mother has grown old before her time due to illness. She has dementia. She is now living in a home where most of the other residents are a good deal older than she is; some are over a hundred. It is a good place and she is well cared for, but it is obviously not what she would have wished for herself. I am having to sell her house and use up all her savings to pay for her care. After that she will depend on my limited savings and/or charity.
It is a blessing that she still remembers me, although she does mix me up with other people more and more, but other than that the illness has taken her mind almost completely. I visit her everyday when I am home in the UK and we talk… But our conversations make no sense at all. She is totally away with the fairies. There are still occasional moments though. Yesterday the home was having a party to celebrate the Queen’s diamond Jubilee. My mum was happily singing away to all the old songs and even got up for a dance. She may not have known where she was, but she seemed happy…
There is another woman there who is older and whose dementia is even more advanced. At one point she was waving her flag in the air and staring at it intently. Take away the wrinkles and she might have been a young woman at a rave, high on E! These people were not always old… They had lives… Many of them have lived through wars and struggled to raise their families when times were tougher than they are now. Many of them have had adventures we would not believe. They have had lovers, husbands and wives. They were all young and immortal once.
A lot of them never seem to have any visitors.
Barring accidents or illness we will all be old one day. I am not prepared for it. I live like a gypsy and have virtually no savings (not that savings or investments seem to mean much these days). If I don’t have children who will look after me? Will I end up as one of those strange characters that nobody visits, vegetating in the corner of some home for the less well off? Will anybody realize that I was once vital and young? Will those around me value my dignity? Will anybody care?
We are all living longer and healthier lives yet some people still think of sixty as being the start of old age… What if we live to be a hundred or more? How can we make the thirty or forty years after retirement as vital and productive as our younger years? How can we ensure that we are all able to really LIVE until we die?
I don’t know the answers to these questions but it does seem to me that they need thinking about, before we have to rely on others to do our thinking for us. I also think that how we treat and respect our elders is a sign of just how civilized our society really is; or isn’t.