Sunday, September 20, 2009

growing old

I work in an assisted living facility. I'm not going to tell you where it's located, what I do, or who works there. I'm trying to hold onto some semblance of anonymity because it's never prudent to blog about work. Nonetheless, I blog about my life, and my life includes work, so I will try to write about it with balanced sensitivity and candor. I want to leave out significant details without losing the essence of my stories.


This is one incident that I have been mulling over in my head for a few days. It concerns a resident who lives at the facility. She is tiny and sits all day in her wheelchair with a big smile and clouded eyes. She used to be a professional dancer. Although she has deteriorated physically, she is still mentally sharp.

A few days ago, after waking up in the morning and getting ready for breakfast, she told her caregiver that she was scared.

"Why are you scared?" asked the caregiver.

She replied, covering her face, "I don't recognize myself in the mirror because the woman in it is so old and ugly."


My confession: I'm living in a fantasy world. Even though I work with the legal and emotional consequences of aging, I can't really come to terms with the fact that even I will die someday. I can't even accept the fact that I'll grow wrinkles. Working here is a daily reminder of my own mortality and it scares me sometimes.

That's the cold reality of the facility. Death serves as the ultimate equalizer. No matter how beautiful, rich, or successful we are in life, none of us can avoid the dance of death. If we have the opportunity to grow old, we will bear witness to transforming bodies and minds. Will I also wake up one day to find gnarled jowls, surprising age spots, and sagging skin? Will I also find myself old and ugly?

I can only hope that if and when I find myself fully in "senior" territory, I will be able to live out the rest of my life with a modicum of dignity.

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