After talking on the phone last week with a high school friend who had had a bad fall, resulting in a fracture and femur surgery, I felt sad.
We hadn’t heard from each other for more than three years, and I was hoping to meet up with her and a few other friends. But she hardly goes out any more due to the discomfort of a car ride. There are many other classmates in the same state of limited mobility.
Seven years ago, our high school class had its golden jubilee celebration. We were the honorees in our town’s motorcade that day. After dinner, about 30 of us were on stage, outdoors, singing with gusto, “Those were the days, my friends…” and doing hip-hop movements and dancing to the song “Hello, Dolly.” (“It’s so nice to have you back… You’re looking swell, Dolly… ”)
We were really looking good, strong and energetic, like the boys and girls we were once. That magical night was the culmination of endless rehearsals (and countless lunches/merienda) that began two years earlier.
How could it be that within such a short period of time, many of us would be stricken ill, disabled and widowed? An aunt once told me that a year is a lifetime for an old person. She admonished, don’t wait too long to return and visit again your Tatay. Indeed, so much could and did happen in less than a year.
As we grow older, we become more vulnerable to ailments, illnesses, diseases and accidental falls, but more so at 70 and over. There seems to be a sudden onset of misfortunes and losses. My husband died recently of liver cancer, and so did my beloved cousin and dearest friend, of colon cancer. A former colleague died of a heart attack.
A cousin survived heart surgery. My brother had prostate, cataract and back surgeries. Two high school classmates had strokes; they are in their 70s. A brother died of aneurysm at a younger age of 60.
Yet another cousin, 71, attends Zumba class regularly. My brother, 71 also, resumed playing golf after his surgeries. An aunt, who will be 94 next month, dances boogie, swing, cha-cha, salsa and tango at least once a week.
My 10 college classmates, whom I saw recently at a birthday party, looked gorgeous and marvelous. My retired friend/supervisor at work travels with only his backpack, and prefers to visit exotic and remote places and stay among the “natives” rather than enjoy the comforts of five-star hotels. I thought of my classmates in jazzercise, a number of whom are in their 70s and 80s, and one in her 90s.
These thoughts began to lift my spirits. I chuckled when I remembered watching a TV show on a troupe of sassy seniors, in their 60s through late 70s, in Palm Springs, California, dancing the can-can in their tight fitting attire, arm in arm, and raising, in synchrony, as high as they could, their still shapely, sexy legs.
But what was most inspiring was the story of the oldest Indian marathoner, who began to run at the age of 89 to cope with the deaths of his wife and son, and who retired from marathons this year at the age of 101 after completing his last race of 10 kilometers in Hong Kong. I thought of those scientists, artists, writers and composers who had their greatest achievements and masterpieces in their senior years.
Maybe, the above are the exceptions to the rule. But for seniors, life doesn’t have to stop because they’ve reached what they call (jokingly, seriously, pityingly, regrettably, matter-of-factly) the “point of departure.”
While waiting for that “departure,” we could live our lives fully and meaningfully despite chronic pains or illnesses.
Much is said and true about taking preventive measures against illnesses, such as good health care, exercise, good nutrition, stress management, enough sleep, and avoidance of smoking and excessive drinking. Having a positive attitude is equally important in being healthy and happy.
There is a world of difference between saying “I’m too old for that” and “Why not?”; between brooding and whining, and being out under a shady tree entertaining your apos with your adventures, real or imagined; between wallowing in self-pity and attempting to learn new skills, be it in texting, computer, arts and crafts or ping pong; between giving up dancing and dancing in a wheelchair.
(My now deceased friend and colleague, Sandra, stricken with polio in her teens, would rock and roll in her wheelchair with me, and move to the tune of “YMCA” at the end of our stress-filled, week-long seminars held out of town.)
The attitude of the family and society toward aging and the aged is crucially important, as well. The judgmental views, derogatory jokes and remarks about old people, the condescending treatment and discriminatory practices can result in more isolation, loneliness, depression and feelings of worthlessness and uselessness.
As it takes a village to raise a child, as Hillary Rodham-Clinton said, so does it take a village to affirm and empower the elderly.