Looking at old age from far away

A few days ago, I visited my grandparents. Originally, I hadn’t intended on doing so for another two weeks, since it is Ramadan and I was unsure of how to handle the fact that we’d be having coffee, if I visited them. My grandparents don’t observe the fasting month (and I doubt they know it exists), but I do. (This tells you a lot less about my religious identity than you’d expect.) My plan was to go in August. But I had a very awing dream – which felt more like a vision – that prompted me to call my grandmother the very next morning and ask her, if they would be home on Sunday.

I always like visiting them. My grandparents are genuinely funny people. They know good jokes. I always felt supported by them.
I always dread visiting them. My grandfather is 91, my grandmother 86. My grandfather suffers from Parkinson’s. He has trouble walking and talking. His body is failing him and he knows it. My grandmother is extremely hard of hearing. She has great trouble remembering things. She often tells me the same joke or makes the same – rather witty! – remark several times each time I visit. She doesn’t notice it. But she notices that her mind is failing her.
Because she is hard of hearing, they will always start yelling at each other – and not in any amusing way. He says something, she doesn’t hear him, he raises his voice, she becomes annoyed at him raising his voice in such a manner and raises her own. It’s a vicious cycle.

Visiting them always makes me think about aging, old age and the way my grandparents have to go through some things which seem so utterly unfair. My grandfather’s body, faithful companion and seat of his power, begins to fail him, while forcing him to witness it. He can’t do the things he used to do. He has trouble controling such a basic thing as his bladder. Many people his age have to start wearing diapers. And as someone, who works with little children and sees what it means for them to not having to wear a diaper anymore, that breaks my heart.
And my grandmother’s mind is failing her, that very seat of her identity, her source for witty come-backs and poetry. I hate this. It’s the sneakiness of it that is so unsettling to me, the fact that you don’t know what you have forgotten until you have to remember it. And the headache of having forgotten something and knowing that you have forgotten it, mixed with a sense of doubt: Did you really forget something?
I fear it, because I know this will happen to me too, as it runs in the family. And, a doctor once told me, the only way not to get dementia, is to die before it starts.

Aging, to me, is the giving up of all these important victories you have achieved from being a baby to becoming a “full grown adult”. The more independence you got and valued, the painfuller it is to lose so much of it.

“So, you, you say aging is bad and old people should be miserable?”, you might ask. I would reply: “Why no, handsome stranger, God forbid!”
I don’t think aging in and of itself is bad. It’s natural, unavoidable. But we as a society don’t treat our elders the way we should and that makes the whole thing such a problem. We accept that children cannot take care of every aspect of their life yet. Likewise, we should accept that from a certain age on, we lose abilities we once possessed. We should treat them with respect regardsless, as they have more experience than we do and their achievements are the foundation of our today. And we should also be more accepting of mistakes they make, as technology and culture is moving so fast these days that even 30-year-olds can be left utterly confused by a phone they only wanted to make calls, but which can now do so many other – entirely useless! – things. We should not, and I can’t stress this enough, make them feel that committing suicide is a solution with which everybody is happy. Because we think to much in the categories of visible productivity, we and they themselves overlook their meaning and influence on society. In the view of the Market, old people are not productive enough and are the best, if they die soon. We shouldn’t think like that but see what these people still can and want to do. And if they don’t want to do anything, they have earned that right in my book.

To summarize a post that is threatening to get away from me, but has hopefully provoked some thought:
1) Aging is scary from my perspective.
2) Cut the oldies some slack!
3) Humans, even when old, should not be thought about in terms of profit.


About buildingzeelowly

Should you wonder about my name, it is an anagram.
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