The incessant march of time, days stretch into night and then begin again. What does it mean, the dark and the light, sleeping and waking. Lately, I have not wanted to get out of bed. My nights are full of dreams. Because there are so many of them, it feels like this is where I live. My days are filled with hours of silence, I often just sit in my living room and admire the plants on the patio.
It’s true that no one ever thinks they are going to get old. Even when a person is old, they will often deny it. Death is never part of a person’s story. We don’t think about what will happen at the end because we refuse to acknowledge there will be an end. More and more, I have been trying to integrate death into my story but find great resistance. When I mention death to anyone I know, they tell me I am not going to die anytime soon, that I am still young. It’s a taboo subject.
A few months ago I was taking care of someone’s sick cat when it started dying. Because I had never seen anything die, I panicked and tried to get help for her. Even though I knew she was not going to get better, I did not want her to die in front of me.
I was not able to watch my own cat die. I left him with a vet who gave him an injection. On the drive home, I screamed and howled in the car. I felt guilty even though there was nothing I could do. If there was an acceptance of death as being part of someone’s story, of it being an integral part of every living being’s life, this guilt would not exist.
A few years ago I watched a documentary in which an old man living in a nursing home was interviewed. When asked if he liked living in the nursing home he said no. When this question was followed up with, “Where would you like to be,” he said, “In the graveyard.”
I suddenly remembered this interview because of the news reports lately about the increase in American suicides, especially among women. While more men commit suicide, the rate at which it happens is going up faster among women.
For me, at 63, the world I live in has changed so much I don’t recognize it. Lately, I have stopped texting and am trying to cut back on emails because I’m tired of electronic communication. Whenever someone tries to have a conversation with me through texting, I refuse. I did text regularly for awhile, and at first it was kind of fun, but after a few years I found that people I knew wanted to use it for everything. One woman used texting to talk about her various illnesses and even asked me to pray for her in a text. When I told her I didn’t want to receive texts from her anymore, she completely cut me off.
While I know texting is part of my culture, and that even more elaborate electronic communication will come in the future, I don’t like it or want it. It is not part of my story. I value privacy and don’t want to live in a world where privacy no longer exists.
When I say to people, “Let’s just take a walk through the woods and talk,” they text me to say they’re busy. So, I take these walks alone. I try to absorb as much solitude as I can because solitude is the most potent elixir, the most effective antidote, against banality and despair. It is the gift I can give myself.
During a recent conversation with someone about the formidable emotional challenges my 83-year-old mother is facing, she said, “Oh, she’s just lonely.” This is often the way older people are dismissed and disrespected. No matter how many people a person may be surrounded by, or even loved by, old age is an alone time and death is a solitary experience. But who besides the old themselves can ever know this?
In a recent interview at 92, Gloria Vanderbilt said there was something in her that was like a diamond, it could not be shattered, cracked or broken. This inner diamond was what got her through all the challenging times. I don’t know at what age she realized this, but it is increasingly clear that this diamond is what I am trying to find in myself.