Friday, June 9, 2023

Harder than Caregiving

Though caregiving is hard, there is something harder.
Growing old is harder.  

Every single human being I know who has reached the final chapter of life's journey has said that.  Family.  Church folk.  Parents of friends.  The refrain remains the same.

"Growing old," as a dear saint of my church would say before her passing well into her nineties, "is not for sissies."  It's an archaism, and I don't doubt that someone will find that term offensive.  But the truth of it remains, no matter what word we use.  Aging requires a deep reservoir of personal resilience.  It gives no quarter.  It does not back off if you ask nicely, or if you complain to the manager.  It does not care about your identity, or your trauma, or your conspiracy theories about the Gerontological Industrial Complex.

I expect it to be upon me before I know it.  As one grows older, after all, time accelerates.  When I was seven, an hour felt like a big ol' chunk of time.  A summer day could go on forever.  A year was an eternity.  Now, a year passes in a heartbeat.  My children went off to college, and their college years...despite their best efforts to extend the process...passed in what felt like a month.

I am middle aged now, my beard flecked with grey, wrinkles and puckerings appearing across my flesh as it loses plasticity.  My knees throb.  My shoulder freezes up on regular occasion, as scar tissue forms where muscle should be.  My teeth, once a source of pride, now are as sturdy as a mouthful of chalk.  The effortless health of youth and adulthood are waning, and in their place are aches and pains.

This process will accelerate, as time accelerates.  The years will click by, faster and faster, as the inexorable gravity of mortality draws me towards itself.  That acceleration is an illusion, of course, a simple subjectivity.  Every moment of life that remains is simply a smaller and smaller proportion of the time allotted to my mortal existence, and so I perceive it as passing more swiftly.  Not that, from my perspective, that will make much difference.  It's gonna go so danged fast.

Old age will be upon us before we know it.  Nothing we can do will prevent that.

We can lie to ourselves about it.  We can pretend we're young, even when we are not.  We can act young, and dress young, our lives nothing more than one long gauze-blindered reminiscence of what once was.  Hair can be colored.  Foolish relationship decisions can be made.  

And we can go further.

Fat can be suctioned out and re-injected elsewhere.  Nips and tucks can be sliced away and the remains stitched together, tightening and stretching us into a Leatherface-masked flesh-golem doppelganger of our former selves.  We tell ourselves it is liberating, that it's our body, and why shouldn't we look how we want, why shouldn't we be young, forever young if we wish to be?

Yet still we will age.  Lying to ourselves and others is not adaptive.  Delusion is not adaptive.

Instead, we must accept that aging will occur, and prepare ourselves for it, body and soul.