Aging, Dreams, and the Stories We Tell

Monday Morning Musings

“It is not true that people stop pursing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

–Gabriel García Màrquez

This past week, my siblings and I spent a lot of time discussing issues concerning my mom, who will soon be 93 and lives in an independent living apartment. She is beginning to need more care, but as she has reminded us, she is still capable of making her own decisions about how she wants to live. We’ve all discovered there is a fine line between concern and overstepping boundaries. At the same time, it might become necessary to—if not step over—then to somehow straddle that line. It is an uncharted course without a captain and only primitive navigational devices. Our simple map is marked, “Here Be Dragons!” We are warned, but necessity forces us on. We proceed with caution. We are at sea, adrift and facing icebergs whose hidden dangers lie far below. We can be slammed by a tsunami of guilt or a tidal wave of recrimination. The sirens sing, but we sail on.

During this same week, my husband and I had a phone conference with a financial advisor to discuss our financial situation in light of my husband’s recent retirement. This planning for getting old, it’s a game of speculation and “what ifs,” but for now, we’re fine.

         Two characters on the Netflix show, Sense8:

Riley: “But what if something terrible happens because of me going back?”

Capheus: “What if something wonderful happens? Eh?”

And that’s life, isn’t it? We don’t know. There could be dragons. But perhaps those dragons take you on a wonderful adventure. There could be ghosts—well, we all look back. We can try to plan for the future, but we don’t know what will happen. The best we can do is to plan for the worst–while actually hoping that something wonderful will happen—because, well, thinking the worst will happen is not much of a life. I go to the gym regularly, but I also enjoy a dessert or glass of wine. It is not “bad” or “good.” It is just my way–to keep my body in shape and to hope my mind keeps pace. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

On Saturday night, my husband and I saw the movie, Mr. Holmes. We seldom go to blockbuster movies, and we were kind of surprised that so many people were there at the 4:10 show. (My husband pointed out that they all appeared to be older than us.) The movie is definitely not a summer blockbuster. It is not an action movie–there are no car chases, no superheroes or women in skimpy outfits. No sex. It is not really even a Sherlock Holmes “who done it?”–although there is a mystery that the elderly Mr. Holmes is trying to solve. Ian McKellen embodies Holmes, a man whose memory is faltering more every day. Laura Linney as his housekeeper and Milo Parker as her son are also outstanding. It is leisurely, graceful movie that reflects upon growing old and on the regret of things done and not done in life. It touches on solitude, family, and friends—who are the people who care for us and who do we care about it? What happens when a person who has no one gets old? When both mind and body get frail who will take care him? Holmes learns the value of connection.

Holmes, who has spent a lifetime pursing facts, also learns to value the art of storytelling. In this movie, Holmes is real, but for those who have enjoyed Arthur Conan Doyle’s books or who have watched Sherlock Holmes movies or TV shows, he has always been real—as fictional characters are to those who love them. Fiction can impart valuable lessons—it is a different way of imparting and telling truths–and of sharing dreams. Telling stories is part of who we are. Stories help us define our world and slay our demons, or at least put them to rest.

So dragon, come close, let me tell you tale. Have you heard this one?

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20 thoughts on “Aging, Dreams, and the Stories We Tell

  1. I am part-way down the path you are describing. With Mother gone, we are living/working this week at Aunt Ruthie’s house – at the moment trimming shrubbery and a forsythia bush. We’ll visit her again tomorrow at Lititz House. When tempted to think “Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my” I try instead “Hold fast to dreams.” Not always succeeding but aiming in that direction.

    Your meanderings always hit home, Merril.

  2. i wish you so well Merril in whatever choices or decisions may have to be made for your Mum in the future. My husband’s father lived to 97 and was in the fortunate position of having Rachel as housekeeper who lived in the separate domestic quarters of the townhouse where we are now living. And we lived close by and visited often. We offered that he live in the cottage of our old home but his independence was important to him. My own parents? Well that’s another story. But unchartered territory it is ..
    The Holmes film sounds lovely. We saw by accident ‘5 Flights Up’ – I thought I’d booked for ‘5 to 7’.. A film with Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman. They were looking for a new apartment as the 5 flights (no elevator) was getting a bit much for him. It was a thoughtful reflective story, on point for those of us considering an alternative life style …
    thank you for this lovely post – a story in itself.

    • Thank you for your kind words and lovely comment, Susan. I’m glad your father-in-law had such a great situation. It’s funny that we both went to the movies. We usually go quite often, but we’ve been busy with other things this summer.

  3. Aging truly is an adventure, isn’t it? “Here be dragons!” indeed. To us it is unexplored territory, although I suppose it isn’t uncharted as many have gone before. You expressed it so beautifully. I hope you can continue to find your balance, straddling those fine lines. My husband and I have had similar experiences with our mothers (both of whom have died), and are now dealing with our fathers.

  4. Merril, my mom is only 80, but as you know she just became a widow this year and she never made any decisions by herself. In the last 3 months she has sold a home, bought a car, among other things. Then yesterday she called and asked me to book her a flight to visit my uncle. I was trying to figure out why she wouldn’t accept any advice or help for those big issues but needed help finding a flight.

  5. Yikes! I’m dealing with watching my grandma (96 later this month) live in a home, unable to speak, eating from a feeding tube, mind completely gone, yet perfectly healthy body who seems to live forever in a body that doesn’t cooperate, yet doesn’t give up and give her the peace of death. And then I watch my birth mom, 64 years old, body of a 98 year old, but mentally all there, unable to even feed herself or use the restroom alone due to her severe arthritis, yet her mind knows every little thing that’s happening to her, and she’s unable to stop it. They both terrify me. They make me feel every day that I grow older I’m one step closer to one of those fates, and the only alternative seems to die young which also doesn’t seem desirable. Aging now scares the crap out of me!

    • Yikes is right, Rachel! You are right that both fates seem terrifying. I wish I had answers.
      My mom was in pretty good shape until she reached about 90. She commuted and worked well into her 70s.

  6. Those dragons and that uncertain journey are what my brother embarked upon when he decided to move in with our Dad after our Mom died. Dad was pretty healthy and sharp. He walked in the desert every day with his dog. Then, after a fall in 2011, there was a dramatic change. My brother was on a real roller coaster ride trying to run his own business and take care of Dad. I felt like my brother was doing all the heavy lifting as he and Dad lived in Vegas, and I lived in Florida. Dad died several months after that fall.

    Best wishes to you, your Mom and your siblings as you work to find the best solution for her care and safety.

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