I have repeatedly recommended the *New York Times* blog, [*The New Old Age*], where Jane Gross and other baby-boom-aged writers navigating the challenging labyrinth of care for their parents at the end of their lives share their experiences, frustrations, and resources. But I looked at the site’s Tag list today and wondered if the prospect of older age could seem any grimmer. See for yourselves:
HEALTH CARE SYSTEMâ€¨
HOME HEALTH AIDESâ€¨
GERIATRIC CARE MANAGERSâ€¨
With the exception of “Media,” “Reader Comments,” and “Good Question,” this is a roadmap to misery – probably very real, but at the same time, the very antithesis of the promise I want us to be able to realize in The Third Third. And here, I realize, I must separate the generations; our parents are **there**, after all. They are unabashedly old and, depending on their respective ages, unlikely to have too many years left. We’re *not* there yet, but through them, having to face up to the exigencies of old age anyway. And it’s not a pretty picture.
Practically speaking, however, this may be helpful. What can we do for our parents? At the same time, how and what can we prepare, for ourselves, both for our own happiness and peace of mind, and so that our children aren’t confronted with the same difficulty of decisions, or deficiency of resources?
I found some fresh counsel in the French author, Muriel Barbery’s popular new novel, *The Elegance of the Hedgehog*. One of the two protagonists used to advance Barbery’s take on life and art and meaning, a precocious 12 year-old named Paloma, writes:
*We mustn’t forget old people with their rotten bodies, old people who are so close to death, something that young people don’t want to think about (so it is to retirement homes that they entrust the care of accompanying their parents to the threshold, with no fuss or bother). And where’s the joy in these final hours that they ought to be making the most of? They’re spent in boredom and bitterness, endlessly revisiting memories. We mustn’t forget that our bodies decline, friends die, everyone forgets about us, and the end is solitude. Nor must we forget that these old people were young once, that a lifespan is pathetically short, that one day you’re twenty, and the next day you’re eighty. . . . Just by observing the adults around me I understood very early on that life goes by in no time at all, yet they’re always in such a hurry, so stressed out by deadlines, so eager for now that they needn’t think about tomorrow. . . But if you dread tomorrow, it’s because you don’t know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it’s a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don’t you see?
So we mustn’t forget any of this, absolutely not. We have to live with the certainty that we’ll get old and that it won’t look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it’s now that matters: to build something now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there’s a retirement home waiting and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, making every day undying.
That’s that the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people.*
Make every day undying. That’s my new goal.
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