Am I afraid of getting old? Hell yes! You might ask why it is, then, that I spend time working with the elderly and their caregivers and focusing on aging by writing many articles that deal with aging. I work with the elderly because I want to try and change the dire landscape that exists today for the elderly. What might that landscape be? One where the “old” person is left to vegetate in a corner, where derogatory comments are made about getting old, where services are constantly being cut and tax monies are used for the young, in spite of the fact that the young make up a smaller percentage than the ever-growing older population.
As boomers, we really do not want to focus on the fact that we are aging, that we are moving into a period in our lives when we will be more vulnerable and needing to depend on others for our care (if death does not find us before then). We were the generation that grew up with the Peter Pan song: “I won’t grow up.” We could just as well sing it, “I won’t grow old.” We do not want to confront our aging process and so we don’t. By not acknowledging it, we believe it will go away. We insist that by acknowledging it, we will somehow help it, affirm it in its manifestation.
Two years ago, I had a friend who truly believed that aging was an attitude. This past year, she is noting changes in her capabilities and attributing it to age. Yes, folks, it does happen. The hardware does start to wear down, break, fall apart.
The reason I am afraid of getting old in this society is that we are not humane towards our elderly. This might have something to do with the fact that we live in a mobile, youth oriented society that does not respect its elderly population. Also, I happen to fit into the statistic of being a single, certain-aged female with no children or grandchildren. I have to admit that the idea of finding myself in a nursing home being taken care of or ignored by poorly paid staff scares me.
We live in times where the technological developments of hospitals and the advancements in medication allow us to live longer. But what has been overlooked is the quality of life our living longer affords us. Is it really a great thing to live to be 90 years old but have no mind to speak of? Or have only the choice of living in a potential hell hole wherein one lives a semi-comatose existence in some dark hallway by being fed psychotropic drugs to keep us quiet?
I would rather depart from this life in my ’70′s, when I still have some life in me than be kept alive with absolutely no life to speak of. (A friend of mine who is in her ’70′s has told me that when I reach that age, I will probably have a different outlook. I don’t doubt her wisdom on the matter, but I am also a firm believer that life should be lived fully and since we are all going to go at some point…..what is it the comedians say, “Leave them laughing”) I also do not doubt that I will probably have what I call a “clutch” to life as I confront the fact that I will be departing it. Ironically, part of what sustains the medical establishment’s focus on keeping individuals alive is something that I believe is a natural part of dying: the clutch to life.
Now maybe this topic seems morbid to those of you reading it, but the fact of the matter is, if we do not confront our aging process and our eventual demise, we will do nothing to change what happens to us as we age and we might find ourselves far outliving our usefulness in a state that we would never wish on anyone let alone ourselves.
© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed 2013