The gifts of aging are bitter – now there’s a generalization. Rant on. The title and sub-heading in the Times caught my eye. Age and Its Awful Discontents and sub-heading "Is there anything good about getting old? No. Its gifts are bitter.” The article was Louis Begley’s gloomy reminiscence about his mother and his abhorrence of the 'ravages and suffering inflicted on the body by age and illness.' You wonder, why 'awful,' why 'discontent,' and 'bitter'? Well, it turns out that his mother was very lonely in her last decade (she died at age 94). "She couldn’t hear well, she had arthritis, too proud for a wheelchair, couldn’t get the hang of a walker, stopped even going to museums, concerts, or sitting on a park bench." Today the 78-year-old Begley feels the "full measure and anguish of his mother’s solitude and that of other old people who end their lives without a companion." It’s too bad Jane Gross and her New Old Age blog wasn’t around (that launched in 2008). Mr. Begley might have read about how other adult children coped (and helped) aging parents. Or he might have hired a geriatric care manager, around since the 1980's. It’s really too bad that despite plenty of money, neither he nor his mother had the inclination to look for ways to maintain the quality of her life.
In this day and age -- many mitigate the awful discontents. Mr. Begley wonders: is there anything good about getting old? For his mother and her peers, it didn’t have to be such a bitter and lonely life. Consider the people in the 84-94 age range in Lincoln Center and around New York, in the Arscht Center in Miami, or in the Kennedy Center. They fill the matinee halls with -- and without help -- at concerts, operas, ballets. If they are hearing-impaired, their hearing aids can connect to hearing loops in concert halls, enabling them to hear the music. They fill the restaurants in Florida and treasure the breeze at the edge of the blue-green ocean -- arriving before dinner with their wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. They climb slowly onto buses everywhere that I travel. Many just want to be outside when weather permits. If someone like Mr. Begley's mother does not have a ‘companion’, as he mourned, a home care aide could have provided assistance daily or taken her to a concert. Even if he and his mother weren’t getting along well towards the end, as he noted, he could have hired someone who had helped one of her friends.
If anything, navigating the services available would have been and is the hard part. Even at that time, Mr. Begley could have, should have hired a geriatric care manager, a visiting nurse or occupational therapist to help her use her walker, brought in a home companion aide, or a coordinator of in-home care. Maybe someone could even have enabled her in her last year to have a video call with her out-of-town grandchildren. You get my drift. To read about the 'awful discontents' of a wealthy woman and to learn about her son who at this time was a successful, well-known and a well-to-do lawyer and author – is to be discontented – with him. Not only did he lack the knowledge (and apparent effort) at helping make her last 10 years of higher quality than they apparently were, he has written about the experience in both his novels and the Times as the resonating and gloom-filled characterization of aging. Oh please! One hopes that when Mr. Begley is in his last decade of life, his family members will be willing to search for services that he needs. And that their children will do likewise when their own parents are in their last decades. Rant off.