There is an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation called Half a Life. In this episode the citizens of a planet the Federation is assisting, Kaelon II, performs a ritual called The Resolution. This ritual mandates that when citizens reach the age of 60 they should commit suicide as a means of ridding their culture of the need to care for the elderly. Since this episode aired in 1991 (I checked) I have thought about what this means to me through different stages of life. Throughout the years my feelings have gone from thinking that The Resolution is a noble idea to that this is the worst thing imaginable. A part of me thinks that for ME I would not want someone to tell me how and why to live but I also can dig the practicality of taking the burden of caring for me when I am older and frail away from The Bee.
My morbid thoughts are born from the interactions I had with my grandmother over the last week. On Saturday afternoon, I got a call to pick her up from the senior center she visits during the day. My grandmother is 89 and suffers from dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as a laundry list of medical problems and on this day she was feeling under the weather. The nurse at the center thought she should take it easy and had asked that someone pick her up. My uncle, whom she lives with, was in dialysis, other family members were not available and I was free to make the trip. I arrived at the center just as the seniors were preparing to have lunch and sat with my grandmother as she ate. The elderly are sort of like toddlers; one gentleman had a plastic bib on him to catch falling food. Another man would spit his unwanted food on the floor. My grandmother seemed subdued as she nibbled at her food, a sandwich, pasta salad and a tomato dish that she declared, “sour.” I chatted with her as I looked around and checked out the center. The center is bright and the staff seemed to be attentive to the attendees. I will admit my hesitation at the nurses aid sporting a chain and locket tattooed around her neck but she was polite enough to me and Grandma so her tattoo is her business. The center seemed to be like an adult daycare, notices on the wall with the date and weather, a list of activities available and music playing.
Watching my grandmother, the 4’11” spitball who could make me quiver in fear with just a look, struggle with her meal and the subsequent walk to the car made me depressed. Seriously, my grandmother practically invented “The Mommy Look of Death”, and ruled her house with an iron fist. This was a woman who would tell you where to go and how to get there and now she shuffles as she makes her way, unsure of where she is, what she should be doing and just seemingly lost. While I don’t think of my grandmother as a burden, I do know that *I* don’t want to ever be looked upon as extra work by my daughter. I was extra patient as she questioned me where she was, where we were going and what the plan was. When I dropped her off with my aunt, I was emotionally exhausted, and feeling like an awful person.
I raged about the visit and my feelings to Effin Guy, my sister, anyone who would listen. I tried to muddle out exactly what I was feeling, WHY I was feeling it and what I could do about such strong emotions. The next day, still feeling a little hungover from my visit and the way I was feeling, I tuned into CBS Sunday morning and caught a segment by Bill Geist. He interviewed 87-year-old food critic Marilyn Hargerty who’s review about The Olive Garden had gone viral. Watching Bill and Marilyn I made up my mind that aging, while scary as Hell, does not mean that I have to give up. I started thinking of Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” and I have decided that I will fight aging, fight my fears and age without giving up, backing down or being afraid.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The next time I saw my grandmother I looked at her as the grandmother who declares that she’s “Cool!” when asked how she is doing and as the “old lady” I see shuffling around. There is still a lot of life in her and I have to put aside my own prejudices and fears. I thought of all the positives that will come from getting older and realize that there is still more for me to explore, to do, to experience and nope, I will not go gentle into that good night.
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