Do You Want to Live Forever?

A couple of key issues that relate to  ‘longevity’ have cropped up in Ireland in recent weeks and now everywhere I look I seem to be seeing things about people wanting to prolong life and try and evade death by hook or by crook.

Irish people (like those in other developed countries) are living a lot longer than they used to and very little provision was made for this. So now we have a situation where older people are ‘clogging up’ beds in acute hospitals because they have nowhere suitable to go. Home care packages just aren’t sufficient and there aren’t enough nursing home or supported-living places.

The idea of being stuck in an acute hospital, not in the best of health, worrying about ‘where to’ next is something that fills me with dread. I witnessed elements of this with my own parents when they were in their late eighties and their quality of life was declining.  However, they were fortunate to be able to remain in their own home, with care, and this mattered hugely to them both.

The vast majority of Irish people want to die in their own homes but only a small percentage actually achieve this goal.

For me, there is a key question about whether people  want to live on because they don’t want to die ~ either because they fear it or because they don’t want to leave others behind.

I feel that quality of life is key and having to  ‘exist’ when the mind and body have essentially outlived their time is a form of cruel imprisonment than no one deserves to have to endure unless s/he chooses.

I realise that this is controversial territory but maybe it is a debate which society badly needs to address.

What’s your view on the matter?


Dear 87-Year-Old Me

Co. Waterford


November 7, 2014

Dear Jean,

I hope you’re in good fettle and not too surprised to be getting this letter.

I decided to write it as everyone seems to be writing to 30-year-old -me and I feel that there’s a lot to be said for addressing the future ~ 30 years on! You know the way we had that tendency, especially before Father died, to feel that we couldn’t look beyond that point ~ as it seemed like an end-of-the-world prospect.

The world didn’t end then and I’m wondering what you’re thinking 30 years on. What are your hopes, your regrets, the things that you can see as having been truly important with the benefit of hindsight.

Path of Life

I would like to think that you’re still physically active and that you can get to the beach everyday. Hopefully, you’re still swimming and getting that buzz we’ve always got from being immersed in the seawater, with the waves splashing our face.


Speaking of face, how are your teeth? Please tell me that the gum operation I’m dreading so much was worth it all and that the wobbly tooth is still there, solid as a rock.

Writing to you feels like having the framework of a huge jig-saw pretty much in place but needing to figure out those tough bits, especially those that are all the same colour. We certainly had plenty of practice at jig-saws when we were small, didn’t we? Remember the time we stayed in Jigsaw Cottage high up in the Wicklow Mountains. That was a happy night ~ and we managed to find one piece to fit that 5,000 piece jig-saw. I wonder did they ever get it finished?

Have you added many pieces to our jigsaw or have you dumped it and taken a whole new turn in life? I quite like the idea of a whole new you: someone who has cast away worry; has got tidier; is gallivanting around the world on some sort of crazy, creative mission; is full of hope having ridden the storms of this recession and presumably a few more that lie ahead of me now.

What I would hate is if you are socially dead ~ remember David Sudnow’s Passing On and ‘social death’ in Second Year in Trinity? That book has never left me and I can’t imagine it has left you either. I couldn’t bear if you were just languishing in a day room of some nursing home ~ a sort of waiting-room for death.  I can’t imagine how something that feels so not ‘me’ could have become okay for an older ‘me.’

I’m here thinking that life is about quality ~ to love, be loved, to laugh, write, read poetry,  soak in nature, be at peace, have hope and, of course, health.

I know that we won’t live forever. Do you still feel that way? Do you still think of Cicero and On a Life Well Spent?

Our Tramore!
Our Tramore!

If I’m absolutely honest, the reason I came to write to you was because I’ve been seeing lots of lovely wintery sunsets and you know the way I’ve always associated death as being as natural as the sun setting.

Lots and lots of love,


PS. I hope you still have a dog in your life and not just memories of all the beauties we’ve shared thus far.

Sophie and Me
Our Sophie







Today is the International Day of Older Persons and somehow it seems right that it coincides with the beginning of October.

I’m one of those fortunate people whose parents lived to great ages, eighty-eight and ninety-one respectively and today I feel a real sense of gratitude for having had such wise people by my side for so long.

Mother absolutely loved the writings of Doris Lessing and I think this quote from her about ageing sums up Mother’s views exactly:

The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.
(Doris Lessing)


As I went for my first swim of October today, I could feel Mother, with her lovely burnished gold hair, urging me one. She was a non-conformist, a rebel in many ways and was just as much of a water baby as I am. She never, ever changed and I hope that I can be just like her in that.

Burnished Gold at Garrarus Beach, Co. Waterford
Burnished Gold at Garrarus Beach, Co. Waterford

And, as for Father, well, this is the quote that  sums up so much about his whole approach to life:

You know what ages a man -boredom. 
(Macello Rubini, La Dolce Vita)


Boredom was a word that Father prohibited all his life. He felt that there was so much to learn and appreciate in life that boredom just didn’t have a place.

Today, I thought a lot about his love of photography and nature and felt him smiling as I sought to capture the waves of pampas grass that he helped me plant in our garden in 1995.

Pampas Grass

One of Mother and Father’s greatest legacies is that they taught me that ageing is something to be embraced and not feared and that older people should never, ever be categorised but seen as their own unique selves.


The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) –

Yes, a brilliant essay by Oliver Sacks ~ not to be missed!

Exploring Life Microblog

A wonderful essay from Oliver Sacks on the approach of his 80th birthday…

My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when…

View original post 78 more words

Precious Moments ~ Gatherings from Ireland #190

Just a glance at the search terms that have led people to my blog, such as how to prepare for the death of an elderly parent,  hammers home the obvious fact that while I may be basking in a heat wave doesn’t mean that others are not totally caught up in the final days of their beloved parents’ lives.

I met a woman last week who told me that she absolutely dreaded the thought of her mother dying and could not contemplate life without her.

Meadowsweet in Newtown Wood
Meadowsweet in Newtown Wood

All this was on my mind this morning as I went out very early to Newtown Wood and for a swim at Garrarus Beach here in Co. Waterford and I couldn’t but think of numerous conversations I had with my late mother over the years about how it is the apparently mundane things that are generally the most precious.

Garrarus Beach, Co. Waterford
Garrarus Beach, Co. Waterford

While I have serious doubts about the type of law which has recently been enacted in China requiring children to visit their elderly parents more often, it seems to me that the sharing of  ‘precious moments’ ~ however this is achieved~ is something which would be of immense benefit to both elderly parents and grown-up children who have a reasonable relationship.

For those who live far away from elderly parents, such sharing could well be in the form of regular phone calls and letters in which memories and day-t0-day happenings are talked about.

While I suggest it is never too late to communicate with a parent, even holding hands in the last hours of life, there is so much to be said for working on building a shared history from early adulthood. This, to me, is like a garden of ‘precious moments’ which is a wonderful foundation when the end approaches and arrives. The thing is, too, the flowers and shrubs in such a garden are perennial and will  bloom forever in the heart of the grown-up child.

Dear Dad ….. Giving a Thank You Letter as a Christmas Present to an Elderly Parent

In 2003, when my father was 84 and in good health,  I decided to give him the gift of  a ‘thank you’  letter for Christmas.  Interestingly, I can’t remember if I gave him anything else to supplement it but I know for sure that the letter meant the world to him then and means a huge amount to me now.

It was a five page letter, written by hand with a fountain pen, and started like this:

Dear Dad,

This may seem like an odd Christmas present but I want to remind you of all the really ‘fatherly’ things you have done for me since I was born.

It covered happy times growing up and moved on to his involvement in my education:

Another aspect of life was the academic; your willingness to pay for me all those years in Trinity. The PhD was the outcome for me –   a lot of money spent the outcome for you! Trinity was my first time away from home. I have vivid memories of you delivering and collecting me from Trinity Hall, driving me to the station, meeting buses. The car was always there and so were you with your warm smile.  

There was so much to say and on the last page, I wrote: 

In so many ways, it’s been the little things that have been everything – mopping up the  cuts, catching the mice, just being at the other end of the phone ….. Nights chatting over cups of tea and sugary hot orange drinks …..

Father never, ever mentioned the letter to me after I handed it to him in a yellow folder on Christmas Day in 2003 but my mother told me that he was deeply touched by it.  After he died  almost seven years later, I felt a great sense of happiness that I had taken that opportunity to thank him when he was fit and well.

I was rather surprised when I was clearing out his house that there was no sign of the letter. I doubted very much that he would have thrown it out  as he always kept things that mattered to him. Then on the day I was handing over the key, I decided to have one last look and there in a special hidey hole, I found the familiar yellow folder. It was well thumbed and I knew that he must have read the letter on quite a few occasions. It has now become one of my treasures and sources of solace.

So, from my experience, I would say: write that Christmas  ‘thank you’ letter now and don’t wait until it’s too late.

Oh and there was a PS in the letter:

PS: Remember that magic moment when we saw the deer crossing the mountains in the snow ….

Winter of Life

In the last few days I have been very conscious that now December has arrived we are truly in winter in this part of the world, anyway!

Cicero in his book, On a Life Well Spent, which he wrote around 50 BC, equated winter with old age or the last season of life. I like this seasonal approach to life but, like Cicero, I certainly don’t see winter or old age as being all darkness and gloom. In fact, I see it as having some wonderful attributes and would like to share some quotes about ageing which really appeal to me.

When Goya was eighty he drew an ancient man propped up on two sticks, with a great mass of white hair and beard all over his face, and the inscription ‘I am still learning.’ (Simone de Beauvoir)

Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age,  but they die young.  (Sir Arthur Wing Pinero)

The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion. (Doris Lessing)

Doris Lessing (1919- Present) (Nobel Prize for Literature 2007)
Doris Lessing (1919- Present)
(Nobel Prize for Literature 2007)