Thursday, June 6, 2013

Check off the right boxes

Yesterday, I had a conversation with an elderly man at the Gallery. He informed us he was 91. He was recounting fascinating stories, glad to have an audience. He was shaky and unsteady, and said he had lost a lot of the sense in his hands and feet. When he headed off to go we asked if we could help him with the stairs and mentioned the elevator. At this point he stopped to talk about the perils of growing older. 

He said that the future doesn't seem exciting for him now, that what he has in store isn't good. He mentioned that he's a 'reluctant atheist', and it seemed that the reluctant part had a lot to do with the nearing proximity of death. I've thought about that a lot, mostly in conversations with my kids, about what after life holds for us. My mother's voice and strong faith speaks to me, that faith is believing without knowing. My intellectual side wrestles with that idea, needing to know to say I know, so I tell my kids many different ideas people have - that their grammie believes this, some people believe that, that I'm really not sure who is right or what I believe, or maybe that everyone is right. We agree that we like the idea of coming back as animals, or wind, or a tree, it comforts us that our loved ones could be near us in nature, and that we could come back.

This elderly man said that he used to be able to run up a muddy slope, but that now he needed help putting dishes away or getting things out of the fridge, for fear of falling into the fridge or pulling all of the items out. He expressed that it was 'so frustrating to feel so damn useless'.

It reminded me of my grandfather before he died, frustrated that he couldn't work anymore, seeming to give up with no point to fight for, refusing to treat the cancer that he had beat 40 years before, saying 'the carcus wasn't worth the trip'.

It reminded me of how I have briefly felt when I'm sick, or exhausted with a newborn, useless and unable to aid in the speed of life around me. It must be terrible to know that is your new constant, that it won't get better. How can people face their last years without depression?

After the man left, this question and his conversation hung with me. Reading this post: "I'll Never be Done" today was timely. It made me think of a possible answer, that the focus in our later years needs to be on our legacy. After checking in on his sleeping kids, the author writes;

"When I checked in tonight,  I realized something: I'll never be done.
I'll never be done checking in on them, although how I do so will change over time. I'll never be done teaching them, because they'll learn from me every day – even after I'm no longer around to do so in person. Whether they read my work online, my book, or the journals I'm leaving behind when I shuffle off this mortal coil, they will always be getting something from me. 
Then they will pass morsels of what I've sent their way to others, whether it will be my grandchildren, their partners, or those they meet along the way.... aspects of me will keep getting passed on. 
So I'll never be done. 
When I think about it that way, I really want to make sure that I check off the right boxes rather than every box."

1 comment:

  1. What a great post. As I have watched my grandparents age I often thought about this. I dont think one ever becomes comfortable with the idea of end of life no matter how old you are.


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