Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hope I Die Before I Get Old.

New year, old me: recently I visited a professor from my undergraduate years. We had breakfast in the university's student center cafeteria, then he showed me around the brand new humanities building. It was a really nice visit, but guess what? He's older now than when he was my teacher. Me, too.

I've been thinking about age for awhile now. I've never had any anxiety about my birthdays--not any of the milestone ones, for instance, thirty or forty. Maybe because I was never athletic nor have I ever considered myself a beauty, I haven't thought much about decay or decline--I've never had such an exalted sense of myself (perhaps I've been vain about my mind, but then there's that amazing dearth of self-discipline and follow-through to temper the vanity).

On the weekend, the day before her birthday, my small, breakable mother fell, caught herself with her hand, and broke her wrist. My aged grandmother, whom I visited today, has broken all sorts of parts. On the whole, I've been remarkably healthy all my life. I've had a bunch of kids, all without incident, never had surgery or any major illness (sometimes I have to exaggerate a cold just to get a day off). But if my mom's getting old, if my grandmother is demonstrably old, if I have a child who has a child, then hey, I'm clearly not getting any younger myself.

My grandma is ninety-one and in the kind of health that keeps her here, but just barely. The last of her generation just died a week or so ago. My dad and my aunt visit her devotedly, one of my cousins and I go fairly often, but in lots of ways she'd rather be gone. "I want to go home," she told me last week when I went to see her at the care center where she stays. It's a common but sad story. I've told my kids to put something slippery on the floor when I get to that point. My youngest son pointed out that falling might not kill me, and suggested poison. Clever lad, that one.

I don't really want to die before I get old. What I want is to get old but stay healthy and self-sufficient and witty and in full possession of my faculties (which I reminded my son, in case he decided to slip me the mickey before I was ready). I don't want eternal youth. I just don't want to live so long that I'm waiting around to die.


  1. The condition of my health as I age concerns me the most. I was just listening to some piece on NPR about the right to die debate. I hadn't felt a personal connection to it till recently--after one surgery and some terrible bouts with nausea, I'm more inclined to want an out. I don't want to wait around to die either, especially waiting in pain.

  2. My grandfather was one of those who had to wait to die. He was healthy and lively all of his life (e.g. he built a barn at 80), but the last year or so, he fell apart. He sat in his chair, his head back, breathing shallowly.

  3. Very timely post given, as Ron says, the recent Supreme Court decision about Oregon's right to die law.
    I'm at the age now where I feel like I'm getting better as I get older. I'm in better shape, though I realize I do look older.
    My twenty year high school reunion is this summer, and I'm actually looking forward to it.
    BTW, my grandmother is 83 and she still lives alone, though she is entering that achy stage. But she still does the crossword puzzle everday. And she drinks coffee. What more can you ask for?



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