READ MY MIND ©
Jan 02, 2017 02:36PM
By Michael Harris
As we celebrate the New Year and I approach a
milestone birthday (50?), I realize more than ever that "getting old ain’t
for sissies." It requires courage, grace, grit, persistence, and optimism
to fight off the "inconveniences" of aging.
My body certainly isn't what it was 30 years ago. The aging process has not been kind to me. There isn't a single part of my body that hasn't been affected. From the bottom up, I have bunions, back pain, bursitis, and baldness. (And those are just a few of my maladies that begin with "B." I won't bore you with the rest of my “alphabet soup” of ailments.) Fortunately, there are several recent books that have helped me come to grips with the aging process.
Michael Kinsley’s Old Age: A Beginner's Guide is just that: a handy guide on what we're in for as our bodies start to fail us. It's "irreverent, wise, and laugh-out-loud funny about living long enough for your organs to start to betray you." Kinsley, who has Parkinson's disease, and thus, has started the aging process earlier than most, answers the questions all baby boomers are likely to face if they live long enough.
For example, "Is being alive all that desirable if you're alive only in the technical sense?” Baby boomers are a competitive group. Since one in three boomers will develop dementia, the competition may not be about longevity but about dying before you “lose your marbles."
In the end, all you’ve got is "how you will be remembered after you die." When you die, "all that will be left of you is people's memory of you, which is to say, your reputation." If you want to be remembered as a good person, try to be one now. As a wise person once said, "live your life like you’re going to die tomorrow,” because, unfortunately, one day that will be true. Will boomers be remembered as worthy successors to "the greatest generation?" Only time will tell, but I hope so.
In Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande uses the example of his father, a trusted surgeon suffering from a debilitating tumor, to explore "how the elderly can live better with age-related frailty, serious illness and approaching death." What is the role of nursing homes, assisted living, and hospice for the frail elderly? While these types of facilities may keep the elderly safe and comfortable, are they really "assisting people to live?" Regardless of age or physical condition, people still want to have a sense of independence.
They want and need to be an integral part of the decision-making process regarding their care, how they live, and even how they die. After all, it's important to remember, “The ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end."
Perhaps no one found a better way to lead a good life fully lived than "the poet laureate of medicine” Oliver Sacks. Shortly after he learned that his cancer diagnosis was terminal, Sacks wrote Gratitude, a remarkable series of essays in which he "counts his blessings upon learning he's face-to-face with dying." He doesn’t focus on his illness and impending death but rather on "what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life, achieving a sense of peace within oneself.” Above all, he “loved and was loved.”
Yes, getting old may not be easy, but this book is a precious gift to all of us who struggle to find meaning in our lives or a way to cope with the challenges of aging.