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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How to avoid despair in a negative world

By Kerry Cue 

Sibylesque quote F. Scott Fitzgerald

The author of the quote above remains unnamed to give you a moment to reflect on the significance of these words. It strikes me that too many people I know – so it could be my choice of friends – have become cynical and negative as they have aged. Aging is a war where new battles are fought and won daily or, hopefully, where graceful surrender is negotiated. A bitter and twisted demeanor, no matter how tempting, is a debilitating mindset.

So how do we remain positive, not only in a negative world, but at an age when struggle is the only option? Perhaps, the author of the quote is setting down an alternative view, one that also embraces wisdom. Life, after all, dumps on each of us a bucket full of slippery and barbed contradictions: joy and sorrow, blessings and tragedies, pain and relief, certainty and confusion.

Sibylesque Anyone for tennis

So this is how we counter despair. We juggle it with the possibility of doing good, of making some small contribution.

Who wrote the above quote? F. Scott Fitzgerald. The quote comes from an article titled The Crack-Up published in April, 1936, in which he is brutally honest about his breakdown. He was tired of life. Any reader today would realise he was suffering from depression. He was 39 years old at the time of publication. Fitzgerald died in December 1940 from a heart attack when he was 44.

Other posts on this issue of aging with a postive mindset include At My Age, Doctor, John Glen was an Astronaut and Why you should avoid geriatric talk.

 Photo Source: 1930s tennis women tumblr

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