Bittersweet Old Age

Old age is awful.

Imagine you’re 95. You can’t reach your knees unless you’re sitting down; you haven’t seen your feet close up in 20 years. The feet don’t work properly anyway. Somebody else cuts your nails, styles your hair; combs it, even. There’s washing, toileting and breakfasting to account for, and a continual feeling of clinging on reluctantly or stubbornly; a dignified determination, perhaps. Or just waiting for God.

When you eat, the food won’t always make it to your mouth. Irritatingly, you find it also on your hand; the mat under your plate, the floor, your clothing … worse still you don’t find it; someone else does. Maybe you don’t care anyway.

What can you do if you’re unsteady on your feet? How do you pass the time if walking is so hard that you need a rest stop between the living room and bathroom (all on the same floor)? You can read. Or watch TV. Or listen to music. Interact with the people who come to see you. It’s limited, but as with everything, what you get out of it is directly connected to how well you engage with it.

What, you’re not interested in any of those things? In that case, there’s a daily combination of sitting, sleeping, and eating to look forward to. That’s it.

We make such a big thing about health and longevity, but when someone thinks ‘I want to live forever’, they forget to mention that they want to stay youthful enough to enjoy it.

I guess the trick is to enjoy what you have at any time. There’s no way of knowing what’s around the corner; what you think is bad now could be so much worse. Maybe old age won’t be yours after all. Appreciate everything. Taste every colour. Try every food. There’s nothing like life experience to help you cope with old age and don’t forget: you will still be you. The same you who was 13, 39, 73 and 89. The same you who was 9. Trapped inside a body no longer fit for purpose.

So at 95, you’ve scored on the longevity tables; you’ve looked after your body for as long as possible. Well done and good cheer for the future.

And if you don’t live to a ripe old age, then you are spared the forced indignities and dull aching daily pain. Either way you win.

It’s a bittersweet win.