I had been thinking about Joe Biden taking on the US Presidency in his late 70s as I was out for my constitutional yesterday. I find it inspirational that age hasn’t stopped him in his tracks and I wish him well in what is a tough assignment.
Meanwhile, I was pulled out of my thoughts by a man who had just stepped off his bicycle. We were on a countryish road in the mist but by the lovely sea.
He had no qualms about talking to me: I wasn’t the invisible woman to him, which was a great start.
‘I’m worse than a child for sweets,’ was his opening gambit. ‘If I’m not smoking, I’m eating sweets.’ With that he cycled off.
I caught up with him at the end of my walk as he had gone round in a circle to add mileage. He told me that he is 79 and that he had just cycled about 10 miles but had another three or four to go. His wife died last year and he said that it was the wrong way round as she had lived well while he smoked, ate sugar like there was no tomorrow, drank too much, did everything baw-ways.’
What he failed to mention was his cycling. I just wonder if that’s been his saving grace as well as his great way with people. Not a word about the virus; just a lovely smile and a heart full of fun.
I hope he’s out and about today again and I wish him well in his endeavors.
Tramore was deserted this morning as the high tide greeted the day.
I was more determined than ever to see it this morning having met a very dear friend yesterday who is now feeling old age creep up upon her. She was once very like me ~ an early riser, a sea baby, a sports fanatic, dog lover and a great walker.
She was looking well but confided in me that the thing she misses most about ageing is not having the energy, balance and mobility that she once had to savour the delights of Tramore which is her natural habitat.
The longing and memories in her eyes were etched in my mind as I walked along the beach bewitched by every single wave that hesitated ever so momentarily before breaking into a white foamy smile.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I like to think that I’m not all that shockable but today’s contributor to The Festival of Bridges caught me off guard not just once but twice.
The contributor in question is Catherine Drea, who lives just a few miles from me here in Co. Waterford. She has just won the Photography Section in The Irish Blog Awards for the second year in a row with her delightfully creative and colourful blog, Foxglove Lane. Be sure to check it out as you are in for a huge treat.
I had been expecting a photograph from Ireland and more than likely somewhere in Co. Waterford but Catherine brings us to the other end of the earth, Australia, while highlighting its deep connections to Ireland. I was also stunned with the way in which the photograph she chose from her vast collection connected so completely with my interest in ageing and elderly parents. Here’s what she wrote:
My youngest lives in Sydney and I often wondered what the attraction was for our young people to head down under. Last year I finally made the trek and was bowled over by Sydney in particular. It is a stunning harbour dominated by the bridge on one side and the Opera House on the other. The situation is mesmerising.
I picked this photo for you Jean as it is called Someone’s Dad……This man caught my eye as like you I have a great affinity with older people and their stillness. The bridge constructed by the Irish and other immigrants who came here is a beautiful testament to their labour and now I know, Australia is awesome!!
The Festival of Bridges runs until October 31st. If you would like to take part, please email your submission to me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
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.
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.
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.
I’m just taking a breather from going through box after box of my late parent’s ‘stuff’ which has been living in our well-named ‘box-room’ for the last few years.
I’m extremely fortunate that my father had a huge interest in photography whilst Mother was big into writing. So, it’s like having a family, as well as a social, history in words and pictures at my finger tips.
I was more than surprised to find a little note that I wrote to Mother when I was about six. It’s written on what looks like the middle pages of a small note book and and has Mama on the outside. Here’s the note itself:
I know I was about six because of the reference to Frecky, or Freckles, who was one of a litter of pups that our lovely Dalmation, Beauty, had when I was that age. The arrival and departure of those puppies was one of the biggest events of my childhood.
Not long after finding this note to Mother, I came upon a photograph that Father took of me on the wooden swing that was just beside the cobbled yard where the pups played. We were living in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan, in the first Bank House of our family life.
They were happy, happy days and I can’t but smile at how I seemed to see twenty as being an absolute age away. I suppose it was, in many respects. Twenty certainly seems like a good while back now, though!!
I wonder if Mother even contemplated the possibility that I would find the note all these years on. I’m just so glad that she did my bidding and kept it.