Reading Susan Jacoby’s Op-Ed in the New York Times this week probably wasn’t the best way to see out the old year (“Real Life Among the Old Old“).
“Old old” refers in this case to those over age 85. It still sounds so far away, but perhaps I’m one of those Jacoby writes about who simply deny the realities of aging.
I RECENTLY turned 65, just ahead of the millions in the baby boom generation who will begin to cross the same symbolically fraught threshold in the new year to a chorus of well-intended assurances that “age is just a number.” But my family album tells a different story. I am descended from a long line of women who lived into their 90s, and their last years suggest that my generation’s vision of an ageless old age bears about as much resemblance to real old age as our earlier idealization of painless childbirth without drugs did to real labor.
Jacoby’s attempt to look ahead with clarity rather than denial is pretty tough to read, as we’re not too far behind her on the baby boomer calendar.
My parents were both relatively active and clear thinking until about age 90, although my dad lost abilities quickly from then on, and my mother, nearing 97, is now showing many more signs of her age. But, with luck, from today’s vantage point, aspiring to 90 pretty good years sounds pretty good.
What happens then? Our situation appears complicated because we don’t have children to step in at some future point. Then you hear the horror stories of what happens in families where children arrive on the scene with their own less-than-generous motives, whether greed or anger, and you realize that families can be either a treasure or a curse. Luck of the draw, it seems.
I have to think that the baby boomer voting block is going to demand political attention to end-of-life issues. The right to die on your own terms is certainly one of those that legislatures are going to have to deal with. Decades ago, I thought Hawaii had a chance to be a leader in this policy area, but that seems only a remote possibility now. I hope I’m wrong.