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Getting Old

The fluidity of time.

At this strange time in our lives, time seems to have become more uid than ever before. Almost like when one is on holiday, only we are not on holiday. We are caught in a time warp, a time like we have never experienced. Even if anyone had warned us that something like this would happen, we would have laughed and accused them of conspiracy theories. We were all caught off-guard, least of all because we did not stock up on alcohol in South Africa.

I wonder how we would have prepared ourselves had we known what was coming. Would we have listened to advice? I somehow doubt it. Strangely, very few people I know prepare themselves, even if they know what is coming. Like getting older. How many people do you know who are really prepared for getting old, never mind for dying? We simply cannot get our heads around the fact that we are getting older and that sooner or later we will die. We put off some of the most basic things, like getting our advanced directive and last will in order. Sensible people, who somehow can be so daft when it comes to preparing for something that we know is coming.

Maybe we don’t know how to prepare? Maybe because we are not surrounded by older people or by people dying in our immediate world, we think it is not out there. Maybe we think we will escape, or that things will change by the time we get there. Maybe we know that nothing can prepare us for getting old and dependent. We allow it to creep up on us because it is simply too horrific to contemplate. We ignore it, dye our hair, go for Botox, dress as if we are still young and hang around young people thinking that no one is noticing. The thing is, most people in our immediate circle will not notice. We will not notice. Suddenly we have a forty-year matric reunion coming up and we haul out some old-school photographs.

The thing is, old age is not the monster we make it out to be. In fact, the years after sixty should be the years of our lives. Not because we believe in “successful ageing” – for me there is no such thing! Ageing is not like an exam or a project in which you will pass or fail. It simply is what it is. And yes it comes with aches and pains – some mornings I need a block and tackle to get out of bed. It is what it is. The horror image that the world created in its ageist attitude towards older people is simply not true for most people. Before you know it, you will be there, and it will just be what it is.

So how should we prepare ourselves for old age? Here is my list based on being around older people a lot over the past 54 years:

Accept that you are NOW in the best years of your life, whatever your age. Embrace the age that you are, wrinkles, grey hair, aches and pains included. Hang out with people who are much older and much younger than you. Learn new things, if for no other reason than to be able to be interesting at the next stand-around drinks party. Learn to listen to people as if they were the only person on the planet – they will like that and seek out your company. Bath every day to make sure you never smell musty. (It happens…) Always make sure that your hearing is perfect – if not, get a hearing aid. Being hard of hearing makes it difficult for people to communicate with you, and having to repeat everything is a pain. Avoid being cynical as best you can. Try not to be a sour old fart, but make light of life and all its idiosyncrasies. Be the person who other people like being around. Don’t be too serious, don’t be too flippant. Be interested in other people’s stories. Be appreciative of everything that life offers. Make sure you like animals, as they are the best company on earth. Hang on to your home as long as you possibly can, and if it gets difficult get yourself a few housemates. Drink just enough wine (or spirits) to be fun without being sloppy. Be kind. Be generous. Be you. Always.

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