Getting old is something most of us will face and most of us would choose to face. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fears along the way and I have many that date back to my childhood. In my lifetime, the whole idea of getting old has been somewhat re-defined by my generation – the baby boomers. Now, sixty is the new fifty, and seventy is the new sixty, and so on. Like most things we boomers do, it’s foolish and, in this case, just a form of denial.
Nonetheless, there are many things about getting older that I actually appreciate and many things I still fear. My 16-year-old brother died in a tragic accident when I was five. It colored my view of death and of God for much of my life. When a five-year-old confronts death, or in my case was shielded from it, a lot of myths and fears surface.
My first reaction, having been raised in a moderately religious household, was to blame God. After all, I’d heard God’s name at every occasion and God was the be-all and end-all. If that were true, then God was to blame for my brother’s death and I wanted nothing to do with God as a result.
Also, laying awake in the dark of night in the weeks, months, and years that followed my brother’s death I would try to picture death and that “picture” was always frightening because I was too young to have any context for understanding death.
My parents were considered older parents when I was growing up and I also got a distorted view of “older” watching them during my formative years. My dad used to be quite an athlete but by the time I was old enough to notice, he was mostly a work-a-holic and the only thing he did that resembled physical activity was a weekly round of golf. My mother was never athletic, unless shopping is considered a competition, in which case she was a champ.
I swore I’d have children much younger than when my parents had me and I missed that goal by five years, with my first son born shortly after my 40th birthday. Gradually, I realized that the lifestyle we choose and the way we live can transcend many stereotypes of age.
My anger towards God softened with age as I did begin to understand that the good and bad in the world were largely impossible for the average human being to comprehend. Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People was very helpful in bringing me to this understanding. It helped me grasp that the bigger picture was simply too big for me to comprehend, especially since my thinking on death and God began when I was a small child recovering from a large trauma.
My life today is significantly different than my parent’s lives when they were my age. I am much more active physically than they ever were though their enduring social life is something I envy. They had lifelong friends, made early in their 66-year-marriage, and I grew up with those friends and their kids. They traveled regularly, mostly on cruises, with several of their couples-friends. I have so many of those formal cruise photographs with them and the captain of the ship. They’re corny but I treasure them.
So, what do I fear now?
I fear death but not near as much as I used to. I mostly fear a debilitating illness or loss of my independence. I think everyone fears that.
I recognize the benefits of age as well in that I can do more of what I want, when I want, more often – assuming my wife approves, of course.
I also recognize that I can speak my mind with a bit more impunity than when I was younger and I sort of relish the ability to do that more and more as I get older and look older. It isn’t as if I’ve been shy about my opinions much of my life, but I do get what I call the “old fart pass” more often now. That’s cool.
Loneliness is probably my biggest enduring fear. My two boys are wonderful but I don’t see them being any source of regular company as their lives evolve. Boys tend to be less nurturing anyway and my two boys are likely to be lost in their own lives given how much more difficult I foresee their lives and futures to be given the changed world and much tougher economy they face.
Again, having had them at 40 and 43, that means their lives will likely settle down when I’m that much older anyway.
My parents used to joke about wanting to die before the other. Their love was that great. Sadly, my dad died first and that was the worst thing for my very dependent mom. My marriage is nowhere near as interdependent, but I do still expect I’ll go first, if only based on actuary tables. My wife swears I’ll put her in an early grave, so we’ll just have to see how things turn out.
What do you fear about getting older?