FACING FINITUDE


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  • Photo: Paul L Dineen, via flickr



GRAYING NEW YORK

BY MARCIA EPSTEIN

Can we talk about loss? Yeah, I know. It’s a downer. Half of my women’s group refuses to discuss loss, only wanting to focus on the positive. But loss is a part of growing old; there’s no escaping it. I also try to focus on the positive, but I can’t deny what I’ve lost. We’ve all lost people; parents, friends, sometimes husbands and wives.

But it’s the other losses, things that we used to take for granted, that can be the hardest to accept. I used to love playing tennis, that’s not possible anymore. Pingpong is my substitute, and I resolutely endure my knee and back pain to keep doing it. The things I used to take for granted are gone.

My agility, my ability to walk without pain, my willingness to try almost any sport. I used to like to travel (though I wasn’t terribly adventurous. Just bus tours to places like England, the Scottish Highlands and Italy). Now, I never know how I’m going to feel from one day to the next. I’ve lost the knowledge that I will get out of bed feeling ready for the day. Sometimes I’m still tired, sometimes I hurt a lot. I haven’t traveled anywhere farther than New Jersey in years. I’m afraid my aches and pains will ruin a trip.

We’ve lost the certainly of youth, the vigor and the taking for granted of our health. Of course I know that young people get sick also, they die also. But it’s rare. With us, it’s not rare, it’s common. We’ve also lost the gift of years to come. The gift of time extending indefinitely. I know I won’t see my grandchildren as adults. I never doubted I would see my own children as adults, and now I am seeing them as middle-aged adults. The truth is, I’ve lost the certainty of tomorrow, next week, next year.

I know I couldn’t hold a job; I forget things from one minute to the next. It’s a common complaint I hear from my compatriots. “Why did I go into this room? What was I looking for?” Loss is just what happens when you get old. That’s not to say that you can’t live a good, fruitful and even active life. I know people in their 80s traveling, exercising, living full lives. They are busy, busy, busy with classes, projects, cultural activities. That can be a huge benefit of retiring. And there ARE benefits (reduced fares anyone?). There is time to do just what you want to do. But I think they are the exceptions. The limitations caused by aging bodies, aging joints, replaced hips and knees, is bound to affect most of us as time goes by.

Let’s face it, the losses pile up. A friend gets sick, we wake up with new and scary symptoms, someone we know dies. Our eyesight deteriorates; sometimes we need cataract surgery, sometimes it’s worse than that. Our hearing fades; I only go to foreign movies now so I can read sub-titles and not have to struggle with making out what they’re saying. Why do they all mumble? I can’t eat what I used to, and neither can most of my friends.

This or that causes intestinal distress. We take powders just to move our bowels. Didn’t we used to do that automatically? I do envy those who only talk about how happy they are in retirement, how many pursuits they have. But I don’t quite believe their sunny optimism. Let’s face it, youth was better. Endless energy, forward thinking. Lust for adventure, eagerness for what the future will bring. We seniors know what the future will bring, and we also know that the future is limited. I’m sorry to be a downer, but loss does come with old age.



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