I am in my 80s. To be this age is largely luck. To be this age and reasonably healthy with peace of mind is even luckier. To be this age, be healthy, and not lonely makes one feel so lucky that you want to gulp the moments down like a drowning man reaching air. I have been in five car crashes without being hurt (none were my fault). During the war as a child, I experienced several bombs falling within close range and where people within yards of myself were killed or injured. Numerous other such incidents sometimes gives one a sense of invulnerability, and other times that the next incident won’t be so lucky.
I regret much but also realize that having regrets meant that I had opportunities to regret; I was lucky to have those opportunities. There is a desire to leave one’s mark; graffiti on the wall of time; an apt engraving on a tombstone or small plaque on a park bench. The gifts of inheritance that will be gratefully accepted, and carry the essence of one’s past. The slogan ‘I was here’ seems as important as always, but much more in the sense of ‘I hope I deserve it’ rather than ‘And now you know.’
Much thought is sometimes given to organ donations, with an underlying feeling of ‘Please God keep me healthy and I will give my body to science in return.’ Though living on as a kidney transplant is more of an altruistic gesture than a religious one.
When friends pass away, it is not just their presence that is lost, it is also the memories they have of you. The “Do you remember when…?” conversations that pepper the elderly reminiscences. Fear of death is actually rare and is commonly a joke. On the other hand, fear of losing one’s memories, faculties, or independence is real. We put a great value on having people who we can trust — especially to carry out wishes when we are gone. Making final decisions can be upsetting, particularly if they relate to young people who are distant in age and lifestyle yet close in relationship.
One gets comfort from familiarity; the same cup; the same chair; the same view. One can be disturbed by the disruption or criticism of established habits. Having pets is a comfort, but caring for them can be increasingly difficult when joints get stiff, and even bending over is an effort.
It is easy to put off things till tomorrow, though there is the thought that there may not be a tomorrow. Oddly enough, the older one gets, the more likely it is that one will live longer. If the Devil hasn’t taken you yet, he may not be bothering. There is the constant sorting out of possessions no longer used, and not acceptable even for charity shops. The clothes that once looked smart in ones finger-clicking days now seem to say “How can you do this to me?” as they read your thoughts. There are the books you intended reading, but now never will. The postcards of forgotten places with ‘Hope you are well’ signed by some long lost friend. The photos of someone you knew well, but cannot now recall the name. Perhaps the more intimate letters from those you knew when time stood still.
So, what is it like to be in your eighties? It is really not much different from being any age where your concerns are getting through the day. On the other hand, people have more importance than possessions; comfort more worth than ambition; trust more value than money; love more satisfying than immortality.
Perhaps in some ways, one wants to leave the world as one entered it; without fear or pain; without anger or distrust; without possessions or debts; without demands or expectations; in innocence.
– Stan Hayward