Getting older, becoming invisible

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By Caitlin Kelly

I live in a building dominated by older people.

Here’s my essay published this week about it on nbcnews.com:

If you really want to know what old age looks like and feels like and sounds like — forget playing around with FaceApp, whose AI technology can age your appearance in seconds on your phone. Simply plug in a current photo and the app will generate a falsely wrinkled face, sagging jowls and wispy white hair. But while the app has quickly gone viral, with artificially aged photos of celebrities and friends alike popping up all over social media, such images have almost nothing in common with the true experience of aging in America.

You just can’t imagine old age. You have to live it firsthand.

I was prompted to write it after our next door neighbor, Flo, died last week, at 91, after a final year at home bed-ridden. All we ever saw were visits from her daughters and the Russian woman who was her in-home aide.

Flo was deeply private, with a head of thick white curls and bright eyes. Only at her funeral did I learn she’d been widowed at 44 with three daughters to raise, aided by a large and supportive family.

Living in a place surrounded by seniors — a word I dislike (we don’t call people juniors!) — has shown me what aging really looks like. The same week my first husband walked out, some 25 years ago, was the week L’s husband had a stroke and never spoke again. He later died and she dated a jaunty older man who wore cool sneakers. He died.

She is now so impossibly frail, sitting with her aide.

It’s sobering. It’s instructive.

As someone with no children, I’m acutely aware, should I live into old age, I will need money and physical help to live well, safely and independently, if lucky enough to do so — my 90-year-old father does.

I lost my grandmothers the same year, when I was 18 and never met my grandfathers.

So this is what I know.

But we also have people here in their 80s looking great and living an active life.

You can’t understand what you don’t see.

21 thoughts on “Getting older, becoming invisible

  1. an excellent piece on nbcnews.com. it’s clear that we realize things as we age, priorities change, and judgment lessens. it makes us more empathetic towards others when we learn someone’s story and find the things we have in common. often much more than we imagined. their humanity rises to the forefront –

  2. You’re the third person this week to bring up what it’s like to grow old to me. On Sunday, I talked to my grandfather, who just had his birthday. He said he never thought he’d get this old and it kind of snuck up on him. Then there’s a friend of mine I saw two days ago, who remarked on his own age while we were discussing developments in our lives.
    I’m starting to wonder if maybe there’s a reason–rational or otherwise–so many people are bringing it up to me lately.

      1. Shit has felt pretty real for awhile now. Insane as all get out, but very much real.

        Still, I see your point. After all, both my parents are over the age of fifty. I see what they’re doing to maintain their health all the time.

  3. Robert Lerose

    Caitlin,
    A moving essay. It hit close to home for me for reasons that you know. Living with and caring for a 93-year-old, I often think about my own future and how I will manage and how I will handle the stresses of “getting older.” I look at my mother’s quality of life and see things that I don’t want for myself. But there are no guarantees that I’ll get the future for myself that I want. Everyone is busy. I get it, believe me–I get it. But there’s a lot to be said for taking a break from our lives and spending time with someone much older. It can change you.
    Robert

  4. Turning 50 in a few months, I joked if I want to see what I’ll look like when I’m old I just need to look in the mirror first thing in the morning!

    You are so right: you can’t imagine ageing. My Mum’s mind is failing, and although my MIL is pretty well for 86, she feels keenly the loss of skills and confidence.

    I recently read a book about being an elder. I like that. I don’t want to think about ageing as loss, I want to accept the changes as part of life, and be grateful to have the opportunity to experience it (assuming I do!)

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