Why We Cannot Imagine Ourselves in Old Age

by Kerry Cue

Jenni Diski quote

One thing that Diski (Restricted link: The Screaming Gynaecologist, London Review of Books, 4 Dec 2014) had not anticipated was sudden death. As we age we fear debilitation. We also fear having to – even if willingly – look after a severely debilitated partner. Diski is in her late sixties and has a tumour in her lung. After bouts of chemo the results are uncertain. The tumour was no bigger … nor had it shrunk in size. She had to adjust to living with not only a tumour, but uncertainty. Death hovered a little over 12 months away. Maybe extra time was bought with chemo.

Nothing is written in stone sibylesque

Suddenly, she was confronted with juggling fact and speculation, certainty and uncertainty. How does anyone do this? Diski offers no solution. But her situation is extreme. Her certainty is clear. She has a terminal cancer. Her uncertainty is extreme for she found herself tumbling back to the lacerating uncertainties of her youth. At 12 she’d been placed in one foster home after another following her mother’s catatonic breakdown. She never knew the rules of each new household. Is it OK, for instance, to go to the toilet during the night? She learned to make herself ‘invisible and inaudible’. When Diski was 15 years of age author Doris Lessing became her guardian. This brought it’s own complications.

We can all learn from Diski’s thoughtful piece. We cannot anticipate the troubles of old age. In Diski’s own words:

‘I will continue to live with uncertainty and my inability to do anything about it, the condition I’ve been trying to wriggle away from all my life.’

And so say all of us.

Photo: unsourced

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