The Privilege of Old Age

I haven’t written for a while as much has been happening in my life that’s left me more than a touch stressed and emotional.

Where to begin… My semi-estranged father has cancer, he developed secondaries and is now terminal – he is also paralysed in what he calls god’s little joke over the Easter weekend. He recently turned 81, an age neither of his parents reached and both died before I was born (three years and eight months respectively). Discovering his mother and grandmother died of breast cancer through a throwaway comment from my mother has added a layer of stress I did not need to have. As he has no siblings I have no idea of any personal risk to myself or nieces.

Weirdly I only saw my first pictures of his parents in the last month after my eldest brother took to scanning old slides my father had taken in the late 1960s to early 1970s. It was funny to finally see images of people that shared genes with, but I felt no connection to or reference point other than being my father’s parents. My brother also scanned slides of my father from fifty years ago, which included him posing with a mug of tea…I guess some things in the genes I never realised before! Those that have seen the few I have posted to social media have seen the physical resemblance between the two of us.

I am also dealing with my mother, who is waiting for a hip replacement operation (she is not in pain and is muscular) but is not quite prepared for how big an operation it is. Her worry is understandable but trying at times to out do my father for my emotion, ensuring I worry about her over him. It is hard being an empath when she is an emotional vampire and knows what she is doing as plays the victim like the narcissist she is. She turns 75 in August, retiring at the start of the year, but does not realise the people she often calls old are younger than she is! Her parents died when she was young, and have only heard snapshots of what either were like as people and never seen an image of either of them.

My father calls me the English one, and yes I have always felt more connection to England than Scotland. I am hoping to visit his home town this year to see the streets and places I know family lived to try understand part of me as feel I do not know where I belong or who I take after beyond much of my interests are similar to his. So many questions but realising that I will never have the answers. That is perhaps what is hitting me the hardest after our estrangements over the years, and feeling I never knew him as a person. I could not even tell you what his favourite colour, television show, or song is for example.

This makes me in turn wonder about both sets of grandparents – how they lived their lives, their interests and what they would make of the world today. As neither grandparent saw true old age it makes me wonder not only will my siblings and I see it, how different the world would be from the one I have seen many changes in my almost 40 years in another 40. The world feels like it is in such a mess right now I also wonder will there be anything left in 40 years time or would I recognise it as the one I grew up in. In one year I will be older than my father was when I was born. Makes me laugh when I explain the pre-internet world to younger people makes me feel like a dinosaur some days, but I am an old soul too that compounds things further.

Last Sunday I saw one of my mother’s best friends that has severe dementia in a care home, which has the worst reviews you can imagine…! I am the first to admit I cry easily but seeing a woman in her mid 80s reduced to a child with a television blaring whilst water and food were out of reach made me sad for her and angry at her daughter having known how badly she treated her. I felt like I was feeling the pain and loneliness of all the older people that have nobody. B is a gentle soul but nobody deserves to be left in the care of others that only work there due to the free parking (I joke not). It feels like we are so obsessed with youth that we do not want to consider the other end of the spectrum, and may yet end up living in a world like Logan’s Run.

Seeing B made me realise my sad reality, unable to have children with no financial savings or home of my own that there would be nobody to be there for me. Yes, I have close friends but would never expect anything of anyone, although I would be first to be there for them and help in any way I could. As for my siblings – my eldest brother is as useful as a chocolate teapot that’s been put in a microwave, the other is caught up with his with and daughters so rarely speak, and my sister is hardly part of my life.

The privilege of old age comes at a price, do I really want to pay it? Do we really want to live longer, or dare I say forever as the pay offs from here do not seem to be worth it. Almost an illusion like the one to look younger; surgery, needles and knives create masks but cannot change what’s going on inside our bodies…why have the face of a 35 year old when your body is that of a 70 year old!? Surely if we do achieve old age we should be proud to of it, an achievement like any other in our path. Respecting older people should be part of being human, but alas like so many things these days it is becoming less and less.

Tomorrow is always a whisper away that all too often we try to put off things until it comes but of course it never does come (or until we have no further option). If anything old age should tell us not to put things off and enjoy them while we can now. Life changes in the click of a finger, for better and worse, which is why living mindfully is so important. It is too short to have regrets or not taking opportunities. I may not be a risk taker but I’m learning to swim (not jump head first without looking or keeping my toes dipped in and out) and embrace what my life is all about…if I reach my 70s or 80s it will be a privilege I will be proud to have achieved.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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