Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thoughts on Aging

I've been catching up on various blogs and, as usual, left Ronni Bennett's to the end because I know she'll have lots for me to think about. She didn't disappoint.

Her recent blogs titled When the Future is Shorter Than the Past and On Fear of Aging and Death made me stop and question my own feelings about aging. Please bear with me as I let these thoughts rumble around.

Ronni talks about observing a certain "disengagement" in older people as they approach death; and about her coming to terms with not being able to do everything she had thought was important in her younger years.

She says,

"But halfway through my seventh decade, I can already detect a less urgent desire to know these things. Not much yet, but noticeable particularly as that impossible to-do list for my elder years recedes in importance."

Hmmm. Disengagement. Ronni is one of the last people in the world that I'd consider disengaged. Yet if she notices it within herself, then it must be so. Perhaps it's a matter of degree and perspective. For who can really know what we feel except ourselves.

I've never been particularly afraid of aging or death. Or so I thought. The fact that my grandparents, aunts and uncles lived into their late eighties and nineties was always comforting. However, I've recently come to realize that this has been selective remembrance on my part.

In fact, only the paternal side of my family has been blessed with longevity. My mother's family has a history of all kinds of chronic ailments and early death (including my own mother at thirty-something, and my maternal grandmother at sixty-something). In a few years, I will have outlived them both. I suppose I can be forgiven this lapse of memory given that I've had little contact with my mother's family and don't think about them very often.

Nonetheless, there is no denying that I pushed this little tidbit of my family history from consciousness. Maybe I'm not as accepting of death and aging as I thought.

The title "When the Future is Shorter Than the Past" gave me a bit of a jolt. It occurred to me that perhaps I take after the maternal side of my family and not my father's side at all. Maybe the end – barring accidents and catastrophic world events -- is not in another twenty or thirty years, but only ten or fifteen?

Am I okay with that? Not really. I still have too many things I'd like to see and do; too many things to learn. That's why I'm trying to stay as fit and healthy as I can for as long as I can. I'm not ready for disengagement.

Maybe disengagement is a gradual process. I know I don't get bothered by the same things as in my youth. But I've always thought of it as re-prioritizing. Then again, maybe I'll feel differently in my seventies and eighties.

This all needs further cogitation.

. . .

(This has been quite a ramble.)


Ronni Bennett said...

The disengagement I wrote of was profound in those - young and old - who were nearing their deaths. My great aunt in her late eighties and several much younger friends who knew there was no more treatment for their HIV beyond palliative care.

I feel nothing like that yet, but there is the occasional frisson of ennui - of tiredness with, for example, the repetitiveness of politicians' greed for power, corporate monetary greed and that it never changes over the years.

And then a good night's sleep revives my outrage, but I think the occasional ennui must be the first indications of disengagement. I am certainly counting on not caring much when it comes time for me to leave - I don't want to be wondering then what happens next.

Wenda said...

I've often wondered if it isn't the disengagement that takes some people closer to death rather than the other way around. Maybe it works both ways???