When I grow too old to dream

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“When I grow too old to dream

I’ll have you to remember

When I grow too old to dream

Your love will live in my heart”.

Just words to an old song…But, if you’ve sung that when you were young, I wonder if you fully understood the sadness, fear, and heartache that the composer might have felt while writing the song.

Who would not be? Doesn’t everyone fear the thought of becoming senile? Of forgetting all memories, the good as well as the bad – of your youth, your married life, your struggles, your achievements, and even your failures?

Are you not afraid of facing a blank wall, not knowing why you are there and what you are supposed to do? Of facing and talking to your loved ones without any idea who they are? To be unable to do the very basics of things because you do not know what to do with your hands, or how to eat by yourself? I get scared just thinking about it. The naked truth is, however, becoming old is a certainty, not a choice.

I am not discounting the fact that most readers of my column would be at that age where they already have adult or grown-up children, sometimes married with a family of their own. We congratulate ourselves for bringing forth success-oriented children but feel a little disappointment with the ones who chose not to leave the ancestral home, or those who have a family but still depend on the graces of their parents.

In the western world, children are expected to leave their birth homes and strike out on their own at 18, or right after graduating from college. If their parents are lucky, communication will continue even intermittently, or visits and reunion will take place as schedules allow. Our culture, on the other hand, is more centered on family and it would seem disgraceful and disrespectful not to think about our parents whether we are far away from them or not.

The reason I am involving the children in an article about aging is because, deep in our hearts, we think of them as our salvation as we count on their love and support when we can no longer fend for ourselves. In their absence, the responsibility is shifted to our next of kin, maybe to our nieces or nephews, or worse, to a trusted help. Truth be told, while writing this article, I asked myself at one point: Will my sons and daughter be up to the responsibility? Will they take me into their homes and care for me or have someone do it? Or will they put me up somewhere and visit me only on occasions?

I know of a handful of foreign-based Filipinos who have decided to spend their golden years back in the land which they have previously left for opportunities abroad. Not because they cannot get the special care they hope to receive from their adopted country, but that, in a foreign land, they are treated just like any ordinary commodity.

Their children are so busy dealing with their own lives that they have no time to spare for an ailing or incapacitated parent. When the time comes, the decision to put them in nursing homes seems to be the only solution. I’m sure a lot of pain and guilt would come with that kind of decision. But survival in a harsh world also calls for harsher solutions whether we like it or not.

To be fair, to live in a nursing home abroad is really not a bad thing. You are surrounded by tons of nurses and medical aides, who will help you with your bathing and other personal needs, monitor your medicine intake, and keep you entertained socially alongside other residents. Or if you can afford it, you can get a classy apartment-like residence called retirement homes, living by yourself, have visitors, and still get daily check-ups by the medical staff and get driven to the cinema or wherever you want to go on the weekends.

Do we have something like that here in the Philippines? Maybe in the Metro? But can one afford it? Not every Filipino can, even with PhilHealth or any other medical insurance (which, I’m sure, most do not even cover long-term care).

So, that brings us back to spending whatever we have left of our lives in where else, but the comfort of our own homes. “Aging in Place”, they call it in the States. If we have the funds for it, we can have a personal nurse checking in on us every day – making sure our blood pressure remains stable, that we have taken our medications on schedule, that we have done our stretching exercises, and eaten good, nutritional food. If we are lucky.

Now, it would be an entirely different story if you live a hand-to-mouth existence. Things would not be so fancy and you probably would have only one help, who will oversee all your needs. But, at least, that is so much better than living alone and doing every single thing by yourself even if you’re feeling sick. At least, you will be doing this in the comfort of your home, with things that are convenient and familiar to you. And, at the very least, you have a neighbor or someone close by you can call on, just in case.

I hate thinking about getting old. It scares and depresses me and I strongly dislike the reality of being hopelessly dependent on someone for the rest of my life. As it is, life is getting shorter every day and we cannot do anything to stop it. So, why not make good use of every moment we are afforded here on earth? With all sincerity, let me say:

While you still have the strength, go out with friends, dance to your heart’s content. Be happy, share your love, and let tomorrow take care of itself! – NWI