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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Time, age and life

Are we aware of the passing of time? I saw a band I loved twenty years ago called Ocean Colour Scene being interviewed recently and found myself saying but Simon (Fowler) doesn’t look like that, forgetting how long it had been since I watched him perform last and often listened to their music on vinyl, CD to MP3 and sometimes YouTube. It got me thinking about my age, particularly with assumptions I have encountered and cultural traditions. It is no secret that I will be 38 later this year, but feel stuck in a wilderness where I am too old to be young and too young to be old. Am I middle age and having a crisis or part of an existential crisis?

We see pictures in the media and on websites that tell us anyone over 30 is “past it”. We almost obsess with youth and looking younger than our physical age. I meet people surprised I have not got a partner and/or kids as the age most people have or expected to. Even when I explain it is one of those things that just never happened for me they find it strange; my love life history is as barren as many deserts. I felt for years it was meant for others but not me as thought who would real want to be a partner to a freak like me? The negativity I put upon myself I realise was immense, and perhaps the age old adage of loving yourself first was quite true. I have begun to understand the companionship a partner can bring but do I can let myself be vulnerable with my heart and soul, giving it to another and hoping they are gentle?

I have always felt older than my physical age, I have close friends in their 70’s that I feel more affinity with and understanding that many of my peers, yet doubtful I will ever reach that actual age. I have always admired those that are older than me for their wisdom and knowledge; spending time with my great uncle was my favourite time in childhood, when not let loose among the shelves of a bookshop, collections of a museum or gallery, at an art sale buying a new painting to adorn the family home and listening to music (often live with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra).

I have been called an old soul to an indigo child by some as seem older and wiser than my peers. I have feelings I know things from my past without remembering reading about them or seen a pattern emerge for at least the second time in this lifetime. One of my childhood memory is of my parents’ frequent dinner parties in the 1980s; I was to take the coats of their guests and put them on my parents’ bed (before going to my own bed). However, I always ensured they knew where the light switch was; many found me amusing to strange, for as I showed them I would say how important it was to know where the light was in the world as there so much darkness already. Something I echo now decades later, as often tell others to be the light and not turn someone else’s off or leave them alone in the dark.

Am I young or older, or does it really matter? We can be old at 25 but young at 75. As someone that has followed mindfulness for almost a decade I know the importance of the present moment, trying to let the negativity I put on myself become neutral if not positive. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, so perhaps I need to remember the advise I give others and just let what is meant to be, be, and let go of expectations of others, we are whatever is normal for us. I do not believe in fairy tales but I know I am a phoenix that can come back from the ashes as I am a survivor of life. Grasping opportunities that come my way and learning lessons from my past, as I take my next step on the stepping stone that is the journey of my life.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The number 11

Everyday I travel by bus, people young and old, filled with their stories to tell. Each one deserves to be heard, as to not stop and listen may mean never meeting that new partner or friend, to give hope to a strange that feels that nobody cares about them, or maybe a favourite teacher who’s teaching years past lay the foundations of today.

Sat beside me is a little girl of around seven. Her hair is blonde like Cinderella, and falls all over her face like a waterfall. It is her pink shoes that draw my eyes as have a name all over them, not a designer one I recognise. I discover Rachel herself did the writing. From then on she became Princess Rachel of the pink sandals.

Behind us are two older ladies talking of all the South Edinburgh gossip they know. Did Elizabeth know that Simon’s wife just gave birth to twins, no Margaret did not but she had heard the sad news that Nancy had died. They both remark on what a lovely lady Nancy was and recall one time at the Assembly Rooms they all went dancing.

It is now tourist season, so at the very front are the tourists sitting with at least two maps of the city centre that do not show where they are now. Frantically checking with guide books and mobile phones, where they are and where do they get off they cry! As if by magic five strangers ask them at once can they help and where are they going.

A group of three school boys sit to my right. Each eagerly showing off their knowledge of football, which seems far greater than any pundits’ script I have ever heard on television. One knowing that it was some Ukrainian, with an unpronounceable name, had now scored twenty four times this season for some obscure sounding Spanish team.

A girl with the fake tan, yes the older ladies noticed her too, talking loudly on her phone to her friend Stacey that she is on the bus now. It is not just the fake tan and shouting making the ladies tut, but her fake eyelashes and nails, and less clothing on than most of us wear at bed times. I can only say for me she is brave to do so in this climate.

Three seats down are two men singing, it would not be an Edinburgh bus journey without a drunk or two. Like all storytellers of days now long gone, they sing their sad laments, including the wife of one who ran off with their mate and taking the kids with her, and another wishing they were both still young in body as well as in their hearts and minds.

There is a lady of around my age who I meet eyes with as I go to ring the bell to depart. The empath in me reads her face like it is screaming out in hidden tears and pain. I send her a smile, to give her hope, and send light to shine wherever darkness or pain is hurting so. Sadly, I get an unwanted grimace not a smile back. Still cannot help everyone.

Now it is time for me to depart from what is but a snapshot of life in this city and it’s people. A journey filled with stories, people and events that will never be repeated the same way again; this is a bus not a time machine. Their stories may get repeated in years to come or forgotten in the mists of time, but that moment was shared by each of us.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Childcare Paradox

Why is it that a woman who chooses to stay at home to bring up her child it is seen as a “waste of time” instead of having a job, where the child is left in the care of others? “You’re throwing away your potential” cry some, how is wanting the best for a child throwing anything away, surely we are by being there when our child needs us most, being a true mother and not just the woman who gave birth to them. A child’s relationship with each parent is different and unique to that child, surely the influences of both matter?

We praise our teachers as they do so much and are often overstretched by doing increasingly more than teach, which should be the role of parent but is blamed on bad parenting for them having to do so. It’s almost like we cannot win, whatever we choose. A parent of either gender can act as teacher, nurse, counsellor, disciplinarian, storyteller, chef, etc. on one day alone, but does not get the same recognition or respect from others as chooses this as their vocation rather than a slave for money to others.

If we educate our children at home instead of mainstream schools there is also a stigma that some how they are failing to learn important life skills that being at school brings. Yet as life is all about learning new things and age is not a barrier to learning, why not use the world around us as a classroom rather than box in a child physically, mentally and emotionally. A child’s curiosity should be encouraged as much as their creativity, to develop who they are as individuals not what is interpreted they need to learn.

Is the family unit being destroyed like so many other things, another part of the ever crumbling cookie. We are told each generation is getting smarter, faster, better, when the reality is we’re getting stupider, slower, and sicker than our elders. The lack of respect some of the younger and older generation show each other is worrying too. Older people have the experience, knowledge and wisdom, the youth as want it all now and cannot wait for tomorrow, with the new adventures it will bring. 

© Fi S. J. Brown