‘I’m 94’ Edna said, unable to conceal the pride with which she made the announcement. She was amongst friends whom we had not seen for the eight years that have passed since we moved houses from Sheffield to Bath. A lively little lady, living alone but in her church cherished by her many friends, she waited for approval and amazement, which we had no difficulty in providing.
At what point do you stop concealing your age and begin to trumpet it? Perhaps eighty is the point of departure. At 79 I am dangerously near to telling people that I am ‘nearly eighty’, especially as my actual age no longer surprises people. ‘Not really’ people used to say when I told them my age, but now when I announce the passage of time, and look at them for unbelief, there is none.
Your age may surprise people but most of all it surprises you. ‘I can’t believe it’ people say of themselves. No one plans longevity, the latter years creep up on you and it is only failing powers – memory, creaking joints, various minor or serious illnesses associated with age – that make plain what you already know is true.
The will to survive then becomes a major project. ‘How much longer?’ pops up as a thought, rapidly suppressed, as the living of your days takes over.
One sign of old age is that I find I read obituaries in the newspapers with an enhanced interest. Just occasionally the person who has died is someone I knew or knew of. But the first thing I look for is how old they were when they died. Similarly in a grave-yard; the names are of interest, but how long they lived is more so.
I have lived much of my life working with older people and thought I knew all about what its like to be old; and perhaps didn’t want to know much more. Now from first hand experience, it’s quite different. I watch people in town, many of them scarred by age, struggling as they walk around, but managing their diminished mobility with extraordinary determination.
Not yet at that stage I am proud to be one of them. Like my friend Edna.