Old age matters
The title can be understood in two ways: The first refers to issues surrounding seniority, and the second to the importance of old age.
I became interested in the topic of aging upon the suggestion of Ruth Carpio, who kindly invited me to address the Supreme Court Justice Spouses Circle of which she is president.
Our life is a journey which consists of five stages: infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age.
Old age officially begins at 60 with its retirement benefits and senior-citizen cards. Today we are told that 60 is the new 40 and 80 the new 60.
In Psalm 9:10-11 we read:
Seventy years is all we have—Eighty years if we are strong.
These numbers should not bother old people because age is an attitude of the mind. You are as old or as young as you think you are.
On this life’s journey, we oldies travel on our own resources, or with canes or walkers, in wheelchairs, or with caregivers, with minds intact, or slipping away, or utterly gone. These last possibilities I try to stave off by playing mahjong, which I call iwas Alzheimer’s.
Old age is a human destiny that has to be accepted. It is tolerable and even pleasurable. Let us oldies have a positive and happy attitude toward life. Let us continue to be sociable and not isolate ourselves from the world. Aloneness and its sister, loneliness, can be devastating.
One day I visited an old friend (she has since passed away) who, like me, had 12 children scattered all over the world. She was living alone, with a maid. “O Meding, kamusta ka na?” I greeted her. “Eto,” she said, smiling ruefully, “namamanglaw.” The word broke my heart. Is there an English equivalent for that Tagalog word?
One late afternoon I phoned my spiritual director and told him, “Father, do you remember how this house used to teem with children? Now I’m all alone.” “Don’t be foolish, Nena,” he said, “you are never alone. God is always with you.” What comforting words.
Retirement gives us sufficient time to atone for past mistakes and failures, to reconcile with relatives and friends whom we may have hurt or have hurt us. Likewise, to love more. Pope John Paul I said: “Commonplace love. Often it is the only kind possible. To help others as best as you can, to avoid losing your temper, to be understanding, to keep calm and smiling on [certain] occasions (as much as possible!) is loving your neighbor.”
Often, we take our children’s love for granted, as they do ours. But love also has to be articulated. My daughter Cherie, who was living in California, developed stage 4 lung cancer at 62. I, with all her siblings, visited her in May 2013. By then her body had been ravaged by the disease. When it was time to leave, I went to her to say farewell with hugs and kisses. “Ma, I love you,” she whispered weakly. “I love you, too, my darling,” I replied. A couple of months later, she was gone. And now, not a day passes without my thinking of her.
Many old people have three fears: of death; of not being needed; and of being a burden to others. My answer is this: First, the Catholic should not fear death because as the Liturgy of the Mass says, “Life is changed, not ended.” A person is made up of body and soul, so that when he or she dies, it is only the body that dies, the soul returns to the Father, our Creator, and eternal life begins. According to St. Therese of Lisieux, “Death is the royal gateway to Paradise.”
As to the second fear: We are needed. Many parents today are working away from home, here or abroad, leaving their kids to the care of grandparents, spinster aunts, or bachelor uncles. Usually it is the lola that keeps the family together. At any given time, in any major US or European airport, you will see grandparents going to or coming from their children’s homes, being housekeepers or babysitters. Most importantly, we, the old generation, keep the traditions and culture of our country alive for the next generations.
As for the third fear: Live in your own home and have your own income. (It is imprudent to give them away because of mistaken love.) But failing these, be kind and appreciative to family and friends who are supporting or helping you.
Let me conclude with this simple request from the old to the young: Be kind, patient and understanding with us. We can never
repay you adequately, but God does and will.
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Lourdes Syquia Bautista (c/o her daughter at firstname.lastname@example.org), 94, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, a widow with 12 children, 27 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.
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