I’ve been thinking a lot about getting old. I may joke about feeling old now that I’m 30, and sometimes I actually feel that way, but I often wonder what it will be like to be legitimately elderly.
I’ve worked in banks the last few years, and being a very traditional industry it attracts an older clientele. Generally younger people never come into a branch unless they need something notarized or there’s a problem, whereas older people like being able to hand their deposit off to a real person and know their name. So I’ve gotten to know a lot of elderly people over the last few years, and I’ve learned a lot from them, but I also wonder about the things they don’t talk to me about. Some elderly folks like active lives and get to see family and friends all the time; some are alone at home every single day except when they get to come to the bank. Some have more money than I could hope to spend in my lifetime; others are desperately scrounging to pay their bills. No matter their situation, the elderly people I come into contact with often have to deal with circumstances I can’t begin to fathom.
Their spouse died, and that person always took care of the finances. Now in the midst of grieving they have to learn how to keep a checkbook and figure out all their bills. They might be the executor of their spouse’s estate, which comes with an ungodly amount of paperwork and legal hassle. The last thing they want to deal with after their spouse passes away is a bunch of signatures and titling and mounds of paperwork. Not to mention the fact they’ve lost the person they’ve been closest to for most of their lives. I can’t even think about that. I don’t want to know what it’s like to lose a spouse at any age, but it’s inevitable. Barring something like the last scene of The Notebook, either my wife or I will know what’s it’s like to lose a spouse at some point. That thought has kept me up nights.
I also wonder what it will be like physically to be older. Again, I’ve seen a wide spectrum of elderly folks from people in their 90’s who are independent, able to drive, cook for themselves, and are about as physically active as they’ve ever been, all the way to people in their 60’s who can barely move. One night I ran out to the grocery store to pick up a quick dinner, and as I jumped out of my car I noticed parked in the space across from me was an older man struggling to get out of his car. He managed to stand up from his seat, but he was completely bent over as he walked, like a perfect 90-degree angle, and that’s not a joke. I went over to see if I could help him inside, or maybe get his groceries for him, or at least bring back a cart he could lean on, but he politely insisted he could do it himself. I didn’t argue with him and went on about my business, but I couldn’t help but try to picture him as a younger man, much like myself. I’m sure he wasn’t always like that. I’m sure for most of his life he was agile and active and strong. So how frustrating must it be for him now that he can’t even walk upright? Are his days filled with angry thoughts, remember how things used to be so easy for him? Or is he just used to it now and he accepts the condition he’s in? Is he content with the life he’s living, or does he regret the things he can’t do anymore?
I’ve heard from plenty of elderly people that they get frustrated when they can’t do certain things anymore. I used to work at a church in a small town, and one particular family “adopted” my wife and me almost as their grandchildren. We were always welcome in their home without question and shared Sunday dinner with them almost every week. Our surrogate grandmother’s mother lived in the house next-door to there’s and always came over to help cook and share the meal with us. But there came a point where it hurt her hands too much to do the dishes. My wife and I always tried to jump in and help with the clean-up, and they were more than happy to let us, but that wasn’t the point. She couldn’t wash the dishes on her own. It was hard for her to stand at the sink that long and wash her dishes by hand the way she’d done for the majority of her 90+ years. She would get so frustrated almost to the point of tears that she couldn’t do something so basic and simple.
The older I get, the more I think about things like this. With every ache, pain and medical problem I wonder if this is the start of whatever will end up debilitating me in the future. I’m still young enough to avoid going to the doctor about them and feel like I can get away with it, but it does continually worry me. That’s one of the reasons why I went vegetarian for a while, and actually I’ve gone totally vegan for the month of May. Some physical ailments are unpreventable and will happen no matter what, but I figure the better I take care of myself now, the longer I can keep doing the things I like to do. I’d hate it if there came a time where I wasn’t able to cook anymore, or play guitar, or drive myself around, or even climb the stairs.
I’m excited about what the future will bring me and my family in some respects, but in other it terrifies me.