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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Losses of Age

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the death of a good friend I had met in 1970. She was younger than I by a handful of years and according to the actuarial tables, she should still be here. I wish she were.

Last year, three other old friends died and undoubtedly one or more others will die this year. After a certain age, that's what happens. If you live long enough. It doesn't even take living to an extremely advanced age to have your friends regularly drop away.

I'm fortunate (for all I know this may be common among elders in general) in being able to call old friends to mind in great detail. I even have conversations with them sometimes. This is not meant to suggest that it is anything at all like having them with me in person.

What gets me is that when we were all younger and hanging out and going places and laughing and crying and making our way through life together, I didn't appreciate how precious our shared time was. Or, at least, I don't recall doing so.

Old people don't get enough credit for withstanding – most of them with great forebearance – what they lose in these last years.

In addition to beloved friends and relatives, some people's mobility goes and where once they ran up and down stairs, played ball games with ease, rough and tumbled with the kids, they are now confined by walkers or sticks or scooters or wheelchairs.

When we leave the workforce – pushed or by choice – we lose not just our livelihood but, in the eyes of the younger, employed population, any value and respect we once earned by our talents and expertise.

Beloved places where we have lived – cities or homes or both - and treasures we have kept close to remind us of important moments past - must be set aside, sold, given away when circumstances demand we live smaller than we have before.

And we must not overlook the ultimate loss for some - our minds - and I can only weep at the thought that in many cases, they know it while it is happening.

The most amazing part is how well we manage the diminution of our presence on this Earth, absorbing the losses, inventing new kinds of lives from the ones we assumed we would have until the end.

Except on days like this one when the personal losses combined with the collective ones I haven't even mentioned swamp the senses.

Here is a video reading of a related poem by Elizabeth Bishop: One Art.

You can find a text of the poem here.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: I Can See You Smile


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I'm sorry for your losses, Ronni. And thank you for sharing your poignant thoughts and perfectly selected poetry reading. I am now on an online hunt for more about Elizabeth Bishop and her work, which I read way before I could understand it (and much else) during my formal so-called education.

Ronni, I am sorry for your losses and understand well how they keep on going. I stay thankful for the things and people I haven't lost-but I do give a lot of thought to the lost. The loss of mobility has been really difficult when I think back to how active I used to be. I feel guilty for mourning that loss when others have lost so much more. I have also lost friends and relatives and the ability to live where I would like. I have to have all flat surfaces and wide doorways and ramps. I am still thankful for what I can do and try to make the best of it as I know you do too. The dependency on other people is tough because I used to be the one helping others. I still try to find ways to do that. The poem selection was just right for our subject today. Thank-you again for your work here.

Maybe what is key here in that wondrous Elizabeth Bishop poem is the last line, specifically the bracketed WRITE it!

If we can write about these things, then maybe they aren't lost. Write - and talk and share.

Thank you very much for this post.

Thoughtful piece Ronni, thank you.

Well, said and the poem, too. My own experience is that it's shockingly hard. Maybe I'm just a beginner and it with practice it will be easier.

"What gets me is that when we were all younger and hanging out and going places and laughing and crying and making our way through life together, I didn't appreciate how precious our shared time was."

Of the few regrets in my life that I have, this perhaps is near the top. A corollary to this is how I took too much for granted and let things pass I felt strong enough about deep down, saying or doing nothing to convey it at the time.

For me, the biggest loss of all is the realization that I'm running out of time. The loss of my parents, career, my husband, houses and health...those things happened over a long period of time and I can put them in perspective. But I can't get past the feeling that I'm no longer reliant in anyone's life but the dog's and worse yet, I don't have time enough left on earth to change that.

I agree with the poster above who talked about writing down what is important to us. Maybe by doing that, we can hold on to events and relationships that were once so very important to us.

I love the poem. Loss isn't hard to master. The reality is that we have no options. Life happens with all of it's joys and sorrows and still we keep on living through it all.

I said I was going to throw my address book away because there are so many names crossed out of the friends and relatives who have died. It's depressing to see it.

The thing I fear the most is the possibility that I might lose my mind. I can deal with all the other losses, but that one is terrifying.

Old people don't get enough credit for withstanding – most of them with great forebearance – what they lose in these last years. so true. excellent post. I think of how my younger self did not credit my elders for all their loses. i myself never anticipated the loses that happen at this elder point in life. How did I get such a sappy and sentimental picture of what it was like to be old (at the same time as I had a realistic picture from observing my Gram and others, and from working with the elderly). somehow I thought my old age would be different. Lovely poem. Have you seen "Reaching for the Moon" a recent movie about E. Bishop in Brazil years. Mixed reviews in the media, but I enjoyed all but one scene which portrayed E.B. in a way I never envisioned her (dancing around) but maybe she did act this way. Frankly I feel any movie that honors a poet, esp female, has worth. apparently she is much revered in Brazil. Susan Pope

Reaching For the Moon ? I'm putting that one on my list ...thank you for that.
The voice of the woman reading the poem is extraordinary...do we know who she is?

I skimmed through this post briefly while at work today & it nearly made me weep. And now that I have had time to read the posts, Larry has already spoken my mind. The poem by Bishop reminded me of a January day over thirty years ago, standing at the cemetery with my younger sister. She and I returned to her husband's (of two years) grave site after the funeral and stood there while the sun went down. I remarked "you're going to loose everything, little by little, until you finally loose yourself." I was only thirty years old myself at the time.

Beautiful - thought provoking - memory reviving - yes undoubtedly some losses are disasters and like most of us the loss of our mind looms as the greatest disaster we can imagine. Your blog Ronni may help most of us avoid this as a recent study showed a 45% decrease in dementia among people using the internet regularly - so keep up the good work!

I'm not a "good sport" about losses current and future at all. Rationally, I know it probably isn't helpful to fight like H&%$, but that's what I'll do until I can't anymore. Then I hope to have some degree of control over my own exit!

Excellent post highlighting the experiences of aging. We all need each other and every good help we can find to face aging! Thank goodness we did not realize when we were young how "interesting" it was gonna be during our old age or we might have not had the stamina to reach these heights of despair. I especially liked how you describe the "presence" of departed friends in thought.
My mom, who has been gone for over 40 years (she died kind of young) is sometimes so close and "with me". What is that about?
I just have to think that there is a deep purpose to the experiences of old age. What do you suppose we will carry with us beyond death? I think one thing I will carry with me is having learned to judge no one. Our losses are so great (and so eventually complete) that I am glad I am quickly losing my willingness to judge others. I am wondering if our losses will turn out to be our greatest gains. I don't know. But I do know I appreciate your blog and other blogs it connects me to. Thanks.

It isn't the loss of those close to my age, although their loss is mourned, but the loss of the young that I came to know and befriend.
The closest friends my children had - the lovely man who died of AIDS, the young father who died from medical neglect, the young mother gone because of cancer, the young man killed in a freak car accident.
Old age and death seem reasonable, even when it saddens us. But the deaths of those whose lives have not come close to old age leaves a hole in the heart that can never be filled.
They are the

They are the ones I weep the most for.

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