It’s A Pisser Getting Old
I’ve recently experienced watching a close friend’s parents reach the ends of their lives. I’ve seen this couple for many years, grow older, slowly lose their freedom, their health, their life savings, their independence, their hope. They went from pride and precision and stability to dependent, and lost, and robbed of their dignity. Her dementia likely shielded her from her ultimate losses. We certainly hoped if she could experience anything within her failing body that it would be a sense of joy or relief as opposed to trapped. His loss of her as a support, a reason, a purpose. And what to do but wait.
I started out to write this to simply complain about my own aches and pains. But I can see more first hand now how others experience what is inevitable for all of us. I have watched my older sister struggle with hospitalizations as her body has rebelled in many ways. Hip and shoulder replacements, osteoporosis, arthritis, hearing loss. We struggle to stay alive as we approach the end, like sliding down a slippery slope and little passing by to grab hold of anymore.
After weeks of lock down and distancing through this pandemic, I was finally able to return to my massage therapist today. The relief was amazing. We forget how therapeutic things are until we can’t have them. This applies to anything that gives us pleasure in life. A threat to life is present in the everyday exchange of human interaction and we are forced to accept change. Change in the way we interact with each other. Change in the way we conduct everyday life. Change that forces us to be alert, and suspicious. Change that forces us to see our neighbors differently. The hard part is, how do you let that change affect you? You could assume your neighbor is infectious and shun them, or you could approach them with the feeling of, I am sorry I can’t reach out and touch you, put my arm around you. But I will protect you if I can. We are social primates. We need touch. Isolation causes abnormal behavior.
I’m not ready to die. I will adapt. I will be suspicious of the real enemy. I will do my best not to get complacent. Because I am not ready to die.
I thought today that one of the reasons the US has the largest virus infection and death rate and climbing is because of the American Dream. For centuries we have all grown up in a world of “you can have what ever you want in America”. You are free. Well of course this isn’t true for the majority of the population. But we all believed it. So, we have become a selfish nation. I will have what I want because I can and you can’t take it away from me. The problem then arises that not everyone wants the same thing, or everyone wants exactly the same thing and doesn’t want anyone else to have it. When I see a huge man screaming like a tantrum consumed toddler that he can’t go down the street and buy a hamburger, it only reinforces the selfishness of one individual. But when I see a president staging a rally where people will be asked (or instructed) to not wear masks with thousands packed in an arena and then be asked to insure they will not sue him, then this has to be systemic. Like a herd of lemmings.
At my age, I have learned that nothing happens as quickly as you want, except death (but maybe that too). When you are young, getting your driver’s license takes forever, because the anticipation of your first taste of real freedom is approaching. You want a run-away freight train and it’s Thomas the Tank Engine. Then losing your virginity (or maybe you already have crossed that milestone). Then 18, a “proto-adult”. Draft age, but still can’t drink. Can vote, but can’t get in a club. Then 25, (marriage?),30, 40 (alarm), 50 (tired…ready for retired), 60,65 (social security/Medicare/senior citizen discounts), 70,71,72, (shaky), 80……? At this point, the slope is way too steep.
I’ve always thought that when I got to the point of having lost any real quality of life, that I would be okay with checking out. But where do you draw the line on how much body pain you are willing to sustain, how many medications you take to stay alive, what is the limit of loss of mobility, and there is always the possibility of dementia, loss of mind and body function, or the failure of a single organ. Could I deal with an oxygen tank? Could I live with dialysis? I love music, what if I lost my hearing? I’ve already been told I am developing cataracts. Unwelcome news to a visual artist. But I have also been told cataract surgery is the most performed surgery in the world. I have friends who have experienced it and say it was an easy process. And they can correct your vision in the process which both delights me and scares me too. Don’t screw with my eyes.
As my hair gets thinner (lucky to have as much as I do at this point) and my skin gets paler and my veins bulge a little more, as my muscles and joints ache and my eyesight and hearing deteriorate, I am still thankful everyday that I can create something no one has ever seen before. That I can sit down and play music on a beautiful instrument. That I can still see the colors in an evening sky. That I can derive joy from making another smile. That’s still quality of life. I am not ready to die.
Peace and stay safe. Don’t be selfish, you always get back more than you give.
photos copyright © George Cannon – Images