In “Water For Elephants” Jacob at age 90 or as he says possibly 93 makes a statement about old age and his family, ” I love them and I know they love me but I am no longer really a part of their lives.I’m more like a duty.” The book is a good story and depending upon your current age it is a story about a circus or a parable about growing old. When I read the book yesterday that particular sentence struck home with unusual emotional force.
As I considered Jacob’s statement a thought occurred to me that perhaps “Duty” was now the true definition of old age. In era of medical breakthroughs and miracles we may now often outlive our usefulness to the point that at times life becomes a “duty” and that “duty” may be a heavy burden on both you and your family. It is a concept that has lingered at the edges of my consciousness since retirement. I don’t believe that as of now I am a burden on my children, probably more of an embarrassment, but in all likelihood I also realize that I may become one.
I used to enjoy the bumper sticker that says, ” Live Long Enough To Become A Problem For Your Children.” but as in all things, everything is relative and as your perspective changes so may your attitudes. Being useless and helpless terrifies me in ways that are hard to express. Having watched the deterioration of both my parents and my wife’s parents in nursing homes I want nothing to do with nursing homes or the at times oppressive love laced guilt driven duties and choices that come with them. But I recognize that up until recently I was on the other side of Jacob’s equation, I was playing the family and our parents were Jacob. So now I must wonder how will I handle it, this “duty” to grow old. There is a country song that uses the phrase, “Every wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to go now,” it is almost poetic in its deeper meaning, taken with an even older saying, ” Only time will tell,” it pretty much says it all for me, but for now at least I feel that sometime in the future a clean swift death after a full life may not be a burden on anyone but perhaps the greatest of blessings for everyone.