LETTER: Thoughts on reaching 75-years-young

IS THE age of 75 years three quarter time, or close to full time? In Nature's scheme of life, it seems the final whistle is often signalled unexpectedly towards the very end.  

Parcel that with our inbuilt instinct for survival, forever desiring to play on, this part of the game becomes intriguing. So without knowing how many birthdays I have left or indeed how many sunrises I'll enjoy, what does one need to pack for this uncharted journey? 

  Unclear of the possible weather ahead, estimating what is enough to see me through is tricky. Undoubtedly it's time to castoff the unnecessary load of material and mental junk, to lighten the pack. 

  Remembering the past occupies some waking time and dreaming time. My recent 50 year graduation reunion was a major memory jogger, as most of the attendees I couldn't recognise.

  The Year Book recording our life's stories makes fascinating reading, showing life's infinite variations. My own version has many highs that are often recalled, sweetened, re-savoured.  

As to the painful lows, TIME has mercifully tailored them for a comfort fit. After all, aren't mistakes the building blocks of knowledge, falls excused on grounds of ignorant darkness, blemishes blamed on inherited DNA? All of this forms the spent past, a canvas painted and framed to be critiqued in another dream session.  

The present is a picture in progress. With brush strokes I've honed, will there be flowing wisdom expressed in the creation? Will there be romance in the tunes, interests in my stories?

  Pondering the present and recent past, it's a period of transitory changes and adaptations. Overall I consider life has dealt me a fair hand, arriving at 75 in reasonable form.  

Mirroring myself, my greying is almost total, skin speckled with senile freckles, eyelids droopy from loss of elasticity, pot belly- a result of accumulated nutrition excess. These makeovers I readily accept, realising getting old is a privilege not bestowed on everyone.   

Other modifications are prevalent amongst us seniors. The restless vigour of youth are traded for laid back serenity with few deadlines to meet or rushing to keep appointments. Making decisions on the run have passed. Snatched sandwich lunches are now flexible snacks, or feasts followed by siestas if desired.  

The rewards of employment I surrendered for retirement has made me realise TIME is the only commodity that cannot be purchased. No more is precious time mortgaged to the employer. 24/7 had meant constant on call which, now blissfully, is my own sweet time.   

Life in the slow lane is often blamed for the reduced sharpness of thinking, even dementia. I don't believe the natural deterioration of mental function is hastened by retirement.  

To the contrary, the repetitive routine of work is now replaced by the challenges of new hobbies. I've discovered the uplifting, creative pursuits of drawing, painting, writing and music. Though a late starter, I enjoy the pleasure of each rung of success, followed by the challenge of the next step upwards.  

Let's share some common seniors concerns. Heading the list is loss of short term memory. Secreting away important things to the so called "safe places" is a recipe for hours of frustrating searches, sometimes fruitless. Writing myself reminder notes is my remedy.  

Failing sight has made the necklace style of wearing spectacles fashionable, indeed essential. To cope with diminishing ability to discern speech, noisy places are shunned. The once fire-extinguishing urinary stream is now an apologetic dribble. Departing libido is farewelled with fondness and regret.  

Many rely on medical advances to repair, even replace, our worn body parts, to make life so much more livable.    Retaining good health and independence has to be the pivotal ambition of the elderly. Most put up with transient aches and pains from wear and tear.

  Exercise, diets and supplements are the current fashion fix-alls. I find prescribed life style changes have only a limited effective duration, most of us eventually reverting to our established habits.  

For exercise laced with cultural interest, I've taken up Tai Chi as a vehicle for concentration and balance, important ingredients for clutching on to running away agility. In short I accept the inevitable decline as I grow older, a price I readily pay for this privileged golden period I'm enjoying.  

Now peering into the murky future, not knowing what lies ahead, how should I prepare? Here I look for leads from people who have lost various degrees of independence.  

I'm sometimes amazed by their capacity to circumvent their disabilities, make essential adjustments, sacrifices and choices. Many find astonishing reserves of strength to keep going often with heart warming smiles, in spite of their infirmities. They are my inspirational teachers.  

I find the thoughts of the final stage of life, dying, to be disturbing, distressing, sometimes unthinkable. Knowing death is unavoidable and "having had a good life" should make departing naturally acceptable. Why isn't that so? Our survival instinct directs us to fight bravely to the very last.

Perhaps the final journey having to be walked alone, not knowing where it leads to, for no one has returned to report, is too confronting. Being an atheist may not be helpful. Religion is suppose to remove the fear of dying, but I have seen religious devotees unprepared to leave.  

When my turn comes, in desperation, will I surrender to unproven faith? Will I be granted my final blessing of eternal sleep coming blissfully unexpected,unannounced?

I try to observe and learn from those who have gone before me. In some instances, the longer we live, the harder it is to let go. "Surely not yet", is sometimes expressed by those dying in their 80's and 90's, even centenarians.

On the other hand, there are those who are genuinely ready, they wait but can't find a way. "Am I still here?" is their cry of dismay with each awakening.  

How sad our society cannot find a way to help them. If I felt I have had enough, be it from meaningless, hopeless dependency, or insufferable pain, why can't I declare my innings closed, with someone there to help pull up stumps?  

Finally funerals. I seem to be attending them with increasing frequency. They help bring comforting closure. But often I leave the service with lingering regret the eulogies were not delivered when the person can still listen.


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