The other day as I was shaving I remembered my mother, this often happens. I’m not sure why the act of shaving invokes these memories, but it usually does. My mother died back in 2001; it was a good death. She was lying in bed and asked her devoted carer, Chrissie, for a cup of tea, and when Chrissie returned with it, she had departed this life.
I recall that whenever I visited my mother particularly towards the end of her life, the first half-an-hour of our conversation was spent in cataloguing and discussing her ailments, aches, pains, and other trials and tribulations. She would sit in her velour covered armchair in her flannelette nightie with her nasal cannula in place and hold court. It was impossible to move her off health topics until she had exhausted every possible nook and cranny.
These memories were in part awakened because of a recent weekend I spent in rural Yorkshire with some good friends all of whom are now in their 60s and 70s. We all arrived at our host’s lovely old house and after the usual hugs and cuddles and comments like “you’re looking well” and “you look just the same” “you haven’t aged a bit” we all settled around the large kitchen table with cups of Yorkshire tea and a variety of other infusions.
It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the various health conditions that several of us are currently managing. Five out of the eight of us were wearing hearing aids, three had had a hip replacement or were waiting for one, and we discovered that just about all of us now take handfuls of pills to keep body and soul ticking over. It didn’t matter how hard we tried over the rest of the weekend we kept returning to the subject and if we weren’t talking about the health issues we were talking about the gadgets and appliances we are using to fight off the ageing process. Automatic bottle and tin openers, Amazon’s Alexa, grab rails in showers and subtitling on television programmes all got a mention.
How does this happen? I don’t recall banging on endlessly about my health when I was in my forties. Is there some kind of switch that gets activated when we retire or reach our sixth/seventh decade?
I think in my mother’s case the process was gradual, but I think she became preoccupied with her health because her world gradually contracted as she aged. She rarely got dressed, hardly ever went out except to the hospital or the local doctor. She had few visitors, and the TV was her only window on the world. I recall that on one occasion my brother took her shopping in Croydon. They strapped her oxygen cylinders to her wheelchair and spent the afternoon travelling on the trams and visiting the shops in the shopping mall. When we next visited her general description of her latest health challenges took second place to the magic of Croydon. She had something else of interest to talk about!
So what of my friends and me in Yorkshire? We are all busy, we all travel and have a wide variety of interests. We all routinely access the internet, we all have grown up children plus grandchildren our worlds could hardly be described as contracting.
Maybe the problem is that if you have a peer group who are all in their sixties and seventies you have a shared history and you are all anxious about the same things like the gradual loss of your physical and mental faculties.
Perhaps part of the answer is to hang out with forty-year-olds? When I see my grown-up children, our conversations are all about what’s going on for them. I listen to their hopes, fears and dreams which are often wrapped up in things like mortgages, buying a bigger house, work, holidays, their children’s education and so on. These are all things that I have been through so can contribute my ideas and suggestions. Fortunately or unfortunately they aren’t going through what I’m now going through so they have no particular interest or suggestions to make. They care, but the topics are alien to them. The terrifying realisation is that I’m slowly but surely becoming my mother and my children are indulging me. How very depressing! Now, where did I leave my reading glasses and what should I be doing next?