Most of us hope to be liked and respected when we are old. Most of us want to think people will say nice things about us then. Yet will we be pleasant enough to deserve those reactions? Or will we find ourselves among the many cognizant older folks who have negative attitudes, even when they are relatively pain-free and have the necessities of life?
It is often easier not to think about what might lie ahead. Yet unless we stop and look at our probable futures, we will arrive at our destinations unprepared. To do this, we must first face the reality that life is not fair.
The Inequalities of the World
Many people fall victim to the inequalities in the world. These are legion, so I will mention only a few:
- sheer bad luck with one calamity following another;
- being female or a minority in any society that mistreats you;
- falling through the holes in this country’s social safety nets;
- losing health insurance with no government program to fill the gap;
- being denied workmen’s compensation for job-related illnesses and injuries;
- having children who turn out to be dismal failures or even criminals;
- being robbed of a life’s savings by white collar criminals who get away with it.
Outside of those issues, which often can and do hit innocent people at random, it can also be our own actions (or their lack) that get us into whatever predicament we land in.
Betrayal, disgust over deteriorating social mores, political chicanery or other tragic reversals can make vinegar of the sunniest of Pollyannas, and justifiably so. Some cranky dispositions encountered among those reaching senior citizen status can be blamed on a disappointing retirement outlook or on the onset of senility. But not all. Nor can crabbiness be supposed the natural result of greater susceptibility to illness and injuries. (While serious aches and pains are immensely distressing, they are not just a liability of old age.) Quite often, lack of foresight or earlier foolish decisions made (by oneself or a spouse) cause some of the unhappiness in older citizens.
It is unlikely that we can forever cheat the major illnesses that debilitate. Neither can we hold back the normal effects of aging, nor do much more than protest vehemently when Congress unfeelingly cuts social programs or makes promises it has no intention of keeping. But since today we pay for decisions made yesterday, we can also start planning now to be old.
Planning now to be Old
The following aspects of our lives can be pondered:
First, persistent refusal to eat anything but junk food over the years, and/or indulgence in cigarettes or alcoholic beverages, destroys mind and body far earlier than nature intended. An individual’s family must then bear the physical, emotional and financial burden of expensive around-the-clock care, either at home or in an often low-quality nursing home. I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of my readers.
Right now, our small group of relatives suffers acutely under the strain of coping with one individual’s stubborn mother who has driven herself into premature debility and senility by foolish health practices over many years. Unwilling to find out the facts first, lower-echelon hospital officials recently attacked her husband for starving her, an outrageous accusation, since the woman repeatedly refuses to eat, no matter what is put in front of her. I don’t think she can remember what food is for.
The man still loves his wife too much to fix the blame where it belongs and did not defend himself very well to officials. He is now forced to have someone with her practically 24 hours a day, under threat of being sent to jail, if he leaves her alone for more than fifteen minutes. None of this has made any difference in her eating habits.
Second, rest and recreation are probably most overlooked by the working-class and middle-class who are approaching middle age. Short of money though many of us are from raising a family and helping out our parents, we must use some of our income to provide escape for ourselves. It doesn’t need to be exotic or even expensive but such enjoyment is more important than buying name brand clothing for our children, for example. (Besides, you teenagers should be earning your own clothing money if you cannot exist without someone else’s name across your hips!)
Read the entire article in Between the Spaces of a Writer’s Life, available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle.