A patch of frosty grass, lit by low afternoon sun in December. I was visiting my parents – this is in front of our house.
My father was diagnosed with colon cancer a year and a half ago. Surgery left him with some inches of colon less, and the immediate outlook was positive. He’d just need some mild precautionary chemotherapy.
Well, it turned out to be more severe. Last year in September, two tumors were found in his liver, and after two more attempts at chemotherapy (largely hampered by his weak heart), he was essentially given up in January. A few weeks ago we all decided that my mother could not carry on attending to his growing needs, and since then he has been in a residential care home for the elderly.
If you follow the link to this old blog post, you see the image of a man who definitely doesn’t look like 72, his age at that time. This was true until after his surgery, when he already was 80. People who didn’t know him that well always judged him much younger than he actually was. During the last year, this has radically changed. From his looks, he seems to have aged a decade in a year.
He himself didn’t feel old. Sure, he had problems with his knees and his back, but that’s just what you get from decades of heavy physical work. Now, with that cancer diagnosis, he suddely got a sense of urgency and a feeling of mortality that he’d never before had. He told me in a moving, almost childishly naive way, that he always had thought he’d live forever. Today he knows he won’t, and seeing that process has given me a feeling of mortality as well.
Anyway, at the time that image was taken, I thought he’d probably die much earlier. So far the old man still carries on and I hope he’ll do so much longer.
Psychologically his situation is not easy. He can’t do anything that he loved to do, and – going to live forever – he never tried to develop interest in things he would be able to do under present conditions. I never thought about it myself, but if there is something to take away from that story, it is probably this: It is not sufficient to just make sure you have no dire monetary needs. You have to foster interests that are not bound to physical well-being. Otherwise you may find yourself in a situation where all your options seem to be cut off.
Reading? You could go blind. Writing? With computer assistance you’d probably be able to write a novel by dictation and proof-hearing, but you’d still need people helping you. Which again brings us to people. I’m a loner myself, but even I recognize that with increasing age there may be an increasing need for social contacts, not the least for their ability to help fighting depression and give us a sense of being tied into something bigger, something transcendental (and I don’t mean this in any religious way), something that may need us to carry on, even in moments when we’d otherwise be inclined to give up.
Having children and an intact family may help, and if you happen to be religious, it may help as well. It would have to be the real thing though. You can certainly fool other people and some people manage quite well to fool themselves, but fooling yourself wouldn’t do in this case 🙂