By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
We operate on the assumption that we have time. Never enough time for everything , but that phone call or unwritten letter can be done next week. Procrastination is based on the assurance that there is a future in which we’ll be capable of doing what we postpone. We assume our bodies and minds will perform as they do now.
That’s the double illusion. Plenty of time and ongoing capacity. The harsh reality: those will diminish the longer we live.
We Think We Know
So, of course we’ll grow old. But being old will be a slightly altered extension of the present, no? We ‘ll be a little less strong but all the exercise we do now will have some pay-off, no? We’ll get some ailments but modern medicine works wonders. It will be terrible to lose friends and family, but we’ve managed losses before.
And for about 20 years, between 50 and 70 years of age, there seem to be many who have taken care of themselves and have muscles strong enough to hold the aging bones in place. Entering Masters tournaments and running Marathons – bravo! Encourages the rest of us.
But time is inexorable. The hard truth is that the elderly have access to fewer resources than do the young. That means the old have less control over all kinds of things. And I’m not even mentioning the wild card of mortality. Death and dying – another whole topic.
The body is wonderfully elastic. In late middle age, you can have a bad day and then 10 good ones. Complaints about aches and pains, accompanied by chuckles, turn up more often. But with so many ways of tending to the discomforts, and barring serious accident, we can keep hopping, skipping, and jumping indefinitely. Until we can’t.
What a surprise! An athletic person suddenly can’t walk without pain – for days in a row. Get thee to a hip replacement! But while thousands of hips and knees are repaired, and full mobility restored, as the next decade passes it becomes clear that some activities are off the agenda. Falling is not an option, which really puts a cramp in one’s style on the ice or soccer field.
A fit and active friend, whose hip was replaced 10 years ago, continued a busy physical life for most of the time since. Until recently. Pain drove her to a full-body check-up, after which arthritis of the spine and knees was determined, and the other hip needs replacing. This isn’t tragedy in the sense of underserved hardship forced upon her. At 73, she expresses gratitude for all the goodness in her life. But she can’t help grieving that even walking now hurts. Short –term remedies will allow more good times into the future, but she has had to let herself recognize the loss of a valued part of herself. And it hurts; it’s real loss.
Mildred, Who Is 100
Time to interject that there are amazing and lively people out there who have moved through the elder years gracefully and with zest. It is clearly possible for us to live through the losses and the gains and keep a balance, remaining part of what’s going on around us. No doubt. But give Mildred – and all elderly folk – credit if they have accomplished that well. Mildred tells me it’s not easy,
Other Possible Cheerfulness Deal-Breakers
There are good hearing aids, and glasses, and cataract surgeries, and ways of coping with diminished faculties. Up to a point. There’s no real preparing for not being able to hear what friends are saying, or for rejecting the offer of a good book because the print is too small (blessed e-Readers !). I wonder if I have been appropriately sympathetic to an elderly person who slows the conversation down by poor hearing, or who asks me to read some small print ? Kindly enough, maybe, but have I really tried to appreciate what it’s like to lose something you’ve always counted on? I may be finding out soon!
A Key Shrinking Resource
It’s taken years into retirement to appreciate the reality of no salary. I had never truly imagined a time when I would not generate an income. Thought I could work forever. I can’t! I’m not dependable. I get tired . A nap is restorative but an employer doesn’t provide a cot..
I still imagine other careers I might undertake. An ad for a program at the local university gets me wondering. Then I remember – everything has start-up costs and I’m not a good investment, even for myself. Borrowing isn’t possible when there’s no fresh income for pay-back. So many former ways of thinking have to drop away.
And by tomorrow I’m glad that I’m home for the day – really want a quiet one.
So again it’s double illusions that have taken a hit. First that I have the physical resources to do whatever I’d like to in the world of work, and then that there are the means to finance new ventures.
Takes Time to Acquire a Realistic Senior Self-Image
The myth about Inuu elders, in former times, determining when they were becoming a burden on the family, saying goodbye and heading out on an ice flow seemed terrible to me at one time. But is the wisdom of the practice that the old one didn’t face decades of diminishing capacity, and of becoming unable to contribute to the group? No illusions maintained there.
Being able to take part and be of help – are we able to be happy without that chance?
So what is a useful positive self-image for us to move toward? I like the idea, once the most dysfunctional illusions are dropped, of getting to know who I am without those old resources. What and Who am I left with? Could discovering this be one of the Senior Adventures?
Please consider Commenting with your own travels toward Senior Adventure.