Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Old Age

I've been pondering the old age dilemma for some time now.  It pops up in my mind from time to time as I observe the effects of old age in people I know, people I love.  And nothing I've observed sweetens the idea of aging so far.  Particularly when I see what aging has done to my own parents.  My father died at the age of 90 after surgery to repair a hole in his small intestine--a risky procedure for anyone, even riskier for an elderly man.  Amazingly enough he survived the surgery.  But he still wasn't out of the woods, according to the surgeon.  And indeed he succumbed to the complications of the surgery and the illness itself--one he may have suffered for quite some time, but no one knew because he chose to keep it quiet.  That was his way, that was his choice.  My father hated going to the doctor; he hated hospitals.  And he stubbornly refused to enter a nursing home for many years.  Our family believes he wanted to die in his own home.

My mother has been living in a nursing home for the past 2 or 3 years.  The years have passed so quickly, I find it hard to calculate just how many have passed.  She is a victim of Alzheimer's, living a predictable life of routines that help her cope.  Her short-term memory leaves her forgetting anything that has been said or done in the past five minutes or so.  But her long-term memory is excellent and she often tells us stories from her past.  Still, with a progressive illness that will never get better, she can only live one day at a time and counts on nurse's aides to care for her, both emotionally and physically.

So all of this leads me to the question of aging.  Why does it scare me and why is it something I do not look forward to?

I think if an elderly person (say around age 80) looks back on his life and realizes he has accomplished quite a bit in all those years, then the idea of being old and perhaps close to death is not so scary or unfavorable.  And if that person still retains memories, is still able to think clearly, and is in reasonably good health, so much the better.

But a person who reaches old age realizing she has not accomplished all of her goals may have quite the opposite feeling about it.  How sad to have regrets about one's life, knowing time has run out, the body has run down, and it's too late to do anything about it.

So yes, old age scares me.  I haven't accomplished all of the things I want to accomplish.  And I certainly don't welcome illness.  And perhaps it also has something to do with control.  There are many things in our lives we can control, but we can't stop the aging process.  I can't snap my fingers at age 53 and say:  That's it!  I'm staying this age for the rest of my time on earth.

So what do you think?  Drop me a comment and weigh in on this topic.

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