I feel like my father is grasping. Over seventy years old, I believe that he feels the good things in his life are slipping through his fingers. I imagine that this feeling is terrifying.
As if caught in quick sand, he struggles to stop his descent. Grasping at expensive food and wine, as well as regular international travel, he ignores knee replacement surgery that would allow him to walk, as well as close friends in his home town. Regularly trading exercise for rich food, he sinks deeper, and I’m not certain that he’s sinking with a smile on his face. There is a desperation in his actions.
I’m still young enough that the sand grains draining from my cupped hands aren’t as noticeable. However, I hope that advanced aging feels less like a continuous theft — of health, mobility, sensation, and time. There are choices we can make early in life that shape our later years. Regular exercise, diet, and social interactions are no guarantee that we’ll live long, happy, and healthy lives. But they help tip the odds in our favor. Given that death is the surest event in life, I’ll happily work to tip the odds.
I’m afraid that my dad will die feeling like he’s been cheated. I’m afraid he’ll be bed-ridden, like his father: his mind taken by Alzheimer’s, his mobility stolen by failed knees, and his health ruined by a rich diet with little exercise. Fear of pain keeps him from replacing his knees. Fear of missing good food and drink keeps him from changing his diet. He feels he can’t do anything about this now, and I’m afraid he’ll make this a truth the longer he waits.
I’m afraid that my Dad is afraid: of aging, pain, death. All of these are valid fears. But fear can lead to grasping at comforting experiences, and I’m not sure that food, wine, and travel can quell fears about aging, pain, and death. Each new rich, luxurious experience stands to remind him of what he’s losing. Unable to catch all the experiences that slip through his fingers, he fears the coming end. This vicious cycle feeds on itself. Eventually, his feeling that he can’t do anything about his situation will clap shut like a trap, and his feeling will become reality. What’s more, his range of options narrows, like prey backed into the trap by the hunting party. The farther he moves into the trap, the more heroic he’ll have to leap to avoid it, and exhausted by the chase, the less able he’ll be able to leap.
I hope I’m missing something. That he’s playing a calculated game, in which he lays down his cards on Death’s table, laughing. I know that’s not how my father lives his life, but I hope that’s what he’s doing.