Being 60: 2
Continuing with the theme of being 60 it’s not unusual that I no longer have my parents. My father lived 77 years and my mother 89. They managed to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997 although my father was already slowing down and looking pretty amazed at all the fuss. We had a party and my mother did most of the cooking and about 25 or 30 people sat down to a grand lunch in the tiny garden behind their house. My father actually died the following year and so the party was rather good, it was the last time they sat down together and enjoyed an afternoon with their friends. My mother had a party when she reached 80 and that was fun too. She really made the most of her time without my father; she took to living alone extremely well, actually.
Some of us reaching 60 still have parents alive although very much in the latter stages of their lives. It’s definitely one of the trials and tribulations of being 50 something and then 60 as it’s pretty much the time when you have to make decisions on behalf of your parents, quite often against their wishes and it’s really very tough to sort. We all go through it and we all take turns supporting each other. For me and my brothers the issue really only became an important one once my mother was well into her 80s. My father was looked after by our mother, she was the one who had to put up with his increasingly erratic behaviour to which we were not witnesses. He only really had a tough time the last month of his life, when he went into a nursing home. She just couldn’t cope any more and that worked out well, she took the decision, she was with him the whole time, until he went. I arrived from Mexico literally one hour before he died, and I was with him when he finally let go. He wasn’t conscious but they say that they are always aware of who is with them, and I like to think that was true. I remember saying to him don’t be frightened Daddy, just let go, don’t be frightened. And he went peacefully I am glad to say, not fighting. My mother was mortified that she wasn’t with him at the precise moment but I think he chose a moment when she wasn’t there, quite frankly. Anyway, my older brother was there, my younger still on his way down from Scotland, and then we had a week to sort everything out. That was 1998; my mother enjoyed herself living on her own until well into her 80s until we realised that she was having trouble with her memory and eventually she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And boy oh boy, that was horrible.
There is always a moment when you have to put aside the person’s wishes and make a decision for the best. In this case, my mother had said quite clearly that she did not want to be put into a home but after meals on wheels and Age UK visiting every day for a year or so we realised that she was incapable of looking after herself any more. We were worried she would do herself harm. We found a lovely place up in Yorkshire near my brother and despite a full day of wanting to murder us all she adapted and settled in. She had a lovely room, there was a beautiful garden, she was taken out and about, even to the pub on a Saturday night. In fact, she was there for a year until she fell over and broke her femur. 3 months later she passed away, she just gave up, she didn’t understand what had happened to her, she couldn’t appreciate why she had to go to hospital, she refused to cooperate and try to walk again. You could almost see her coming to a decision: no more walking, no more thinking, no more food, I’m on my way and there’s no stopping me. The last thing she said to me when I said goodbye was to take care of myself. She was very clear when she said that, just a month before she finally died.
These experiences with parents are shocking really, definitely very very sad and bring all sorts of emotions to the surface. I remember having gone all the way over there from Mexico, while my mother was in hospital, only for her to criticise me and even though I knew she wasn’t in her full senses that still hurt. Even at 59 she was still telling me what to do, amazing.
So being 60 and having gone through all of that makes me think how I will be once I get into my 80s or, I ask myself, will I even get that far? I could go any time, that’s clear to me, and it’s up to me to take care of myself (as my mother knowingly said) and enjoy life as much as possible. So, here I am on a Sunday morning, writing this and listening to music and with a stunning view from my desk of tropical plants and ferns, all different shades of green, plus sunlight reflecting off the moss covered patio floor in the front of my house, and lighting up the leaves on the ficus Filipina that presides over everything. I have food, a roof over my head, a glorious garden, 2 dogs, a car, a job, wonderful friends who support me through everything, internet, a bottle of wine in the fridge, pretty much everything I need for a simple life. The idea is to live in the present and enjoy life; it’s up to me to fulfil that.
However, I am far from living in ignorance, I cannot ignore the findings of the latest IPCC report, that gives us far more than a normal warning about our future. We have to invest in renewable energies, there is no other way, but so far we are hellbent on extracting every last drop of oil from the Earth, every bit of natural gas that we can lay our hands on. So our future as a planet, as a species, is in doubt. I really would not like to be be one of the babies being born today. What kind of life are we leaving for the future generations? But that's a whole other subject....