Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
No one seems prepared to get old, to become doddering and delicate and decrepit, to embrace the inexorable breakdown of our bodies.
The uninitiated are overwhelmed by aging. There’s a drawn-out feud to stay independent even as your body starts acting on its own, and even the healthiest of the elderly can be disgusted at themselves.
When I visit the elderly, some of them are blindsided by the loss of their youth. The middle-aged are, too. They really can’t stomach it. Some are all too sheepish: “You should’ve seen my figure” or “Back in the day I was something” or “I could fight you full strength right now.” I’m certain I’ll be saying the same things, resisting my withering body as it fails me, hissing at every reflection as I banish myself to mashed potatoes and Mylanta.
Some of this is because we’ve tied too much worth and value to youth and attractiveness. I guess I could blame social media, which permanently imprints our youthful selves on a public scale. But really, no one told us how to cope with death.
Even if I told you what I know, I’m not sure that would make it any better.
Your body becomes gross. Your orifices start popping open like loose cargo pants and you start streaming fluids from everywhere. You’ll stink constantly. About one out of six of you will need a colostomy bag. About one out of five you will need dentures. You’ll have permanent aches and pains. You’ll lose time and names and history. You’ll fall, a lot. Your belly won’t leave, but your sex-life might. Your slang will lose style. You’ll lose relevance. You might not enjoy retirement with all your medical bills looming. You’ll be helplessly stuck in a bed for days; you’ll have rows of medicine to keep you pumping; you’ll find a hard surprise in every mirror. And if you retire wealthy, you might be too sick or too depressed to enjoy it, or—well, cancer. And there are all the funerals.