I don’t feel at all sorry for myself. Given the pandemic sweeping the world, I am, as I last wrote, exceedingly grateful to be healthy, safe, well-supplied, well-fed and well-loved. But as the coronavirus continues to run amok, literally untested, tragically piling up lost lives and livelihoods both, it is also redefining the term Aging in Place.
A high school senior in a New York Times story about missing Proms this spring said he feels like “My life is waiting for me out there” while he is quarantined at home. I like the thought, it has a certain poetry about it. The kid has a sweet perspective, but at my age, I don’t share it. Rather, on a bad day (and there are a few), my sense is that my life is passing me by while I am sheltered at home. We are “aging in place” in a way I never intended.
In fact, having helped take care of both my father and my father-in-law into their frail 80’s, my fundamental fear of getting old was that my world, like theirs, would inexorably narrow — constrict my physical space and my physical activity; literally close my curious, open mind; curtail my ability and desire to to grow and learn; cause me to think more of the past than of the future; weaken my connections to family and friends; negate my independence while creating increased dependence; instill me with fear, loneliness and angst, forcing me to contemplate “Is this all there is?” Or, perhaps worse, “Is this all there ever was?”
Once I turned 60-ish, every choice every day was my intentional antidote, my way to stave off those particularly sad exigencies of aging — while I thought I could. I reveled in active time with grandchildren, sharing our kids’ young adult and young family lives, traveling to new places, making new friends, learning new tricks at the bridge table and engaging in the world through my addiction to the news and occasional political activism. I knew that physical and mental health would be the ultimate determinants of how well I aged and how long I aged well, and my husband and I worked to maintain both with exercise, quality medical care, intellectual stimulation and socialization. I knew Luck and Chance and Genes played a big role, too, and that those dice had already been cast.
But then along came the coronavirus pandemic, upending lives around the world, rendering meaningless all my selfishly ambitious plans for what my husband calls “our active retirement years,” stealing months and maybe years from our remaining time, forcing us not simply to shelter in place, but to age in place, too.
I mourn the incalculable loss of life; I mourn the loss of any remaining faith in our government under Trump to do the right thing; I grieve with those whose livelihoods have been destroyed. But I mourn, too, the quotidian losses, both the time and the times we’ve lost. My two year-old grandson, for example, will still snuggle and chatter and make me laugh whenever we next meet in person, but he will probably be three by that time, and I will have missed a whole year of his precious development. It’s worth noting that I will be a whole year older, too, and that my development is likely not to be so precious.
But here’s the thing: Coronavirus or not, we’re all going to be older a year from now. If we’re lucky. Canceled vacations, missed birthday parties, book clubs, study groups, bridge games and museum tours gone virtual, summer plans in limbo, mammograms postponed — these are disappointments, not disasters. I need not dwell on them. This is not my father-in-law’s aging in place. If Covid-19 is redefining the term, so can I.
My life is neither waiting for me out there, nor passing me by. It is here, now, and I can choose to make the most of it from the confines of my home. Or not. But why not? New recipes, good books, old friends, family online and via phone calls and FaceTime, note-writing, paper-filing, photo-sorting, re-ordering things (lots of things), taking a course — my world is different, but still mercifully vast, indeed. And, these days, very, very challenging.
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by Ann Sentilles
April 24th, 2020