Growing Older

What follows is a pretty long-ish story I read on Reddit made by user Kylearm. It’s a very interesting story, but don’t read it if you don’t want to cry. Actually, skip this entire post if you don’t want to be depressed at all.

“One day after filling up my car with gas, I went inside to pick up some snacks for the long drive to my hometown. As I was heading in, I saw an elderly couple. They were both very old and kind of unkempt, but the husband was so loving and careful as he wheeled his frail wife in her wheelchair up the handicapped ramp, turned her around so her back was to the store, and parked her by the door. He said “You wait here, honey. I’ll go get your ice cream,” and went inside, kind of bent over, but spry nonetheless.

When I got into the store, there was a middle aged guy who seemed to be old friends with the woman behind the counter, probably the owner or manager. He was teasing her and they were laughing. As I got in line to pay for my M&Ms, he said his farewell and went out the door. The woman greeted the next customer.

Suddenly the middle-aged man came back in and said, deadpan, “Call the ambulance.”

“Oh you!”–the woman exclaimed, thinking he was still kidding.

“No,” he replied, absolutely calm, but clearly focused, “I really mean it. An old lady has fallen down out here.”

The woman grabbed the phone. The old man bleated “Honey!” and ran out the door, drumstick ice cream in hand. I put my M&Ms back and went outside to see if I could help.

There was the old lady, face-down under her wheelchair in a small pool of blood. The middle-aged man, who was quite large and brawny, carefully pulled the chair off of her. She was moaning. The husband was in an absolute panic, crying, “Honey! Honey!” and trying to help, but he was too weak. As I neared the scene, I noticed the smell. This lady had not been bathed in a very long time.

The man carefully rolled her over. She had a large tear on her forehead and a swelling, purple, bleeding upper lip. The entire right side of her face was full of gas-station-parking-lot dirt. Black. Her husband kept saying “It’s alright, you’re alright, it’s okay,” but the woman only sobbed back. An empty, senseless, language-less sob.

The husband looked down at the ice cream in his hand, and suddenly, furiously tore it open. He held it up for her. “Look, honey, I got your ice cream. See? It’s alright. Have your ice cream,” he said, weakly touching it to her filthy, bloodied lips. One of the customers gently pulled his hand away and said, “She can’t have it now; let’s wait for the ambulance to arrive.” He looked ashamed as he set the ice cream down on the pavement.

The hospital was just down the street, and the ambulance arrived very shortly. The EMTs got her on a stretcher, and with every movement, she groaned louder. No words, just sounds.

They began asking if anyone had seen what had happened. The middle-aged man said that he saw her just roll off the curb and flip face down onto the parking lot.

“Who left her there?” the EMT demanded.

“I did! I was getting her ice cream!” the husband yelped.

“Didn’t you put the brake on?”

A moment of horrible realization passed over his face, then he plead, “Yes! I… Yes! I think so… I think I did.”

The EMT nodded knowingly to one of his partners and they set about getting the old woman into the ambulance. As they did, the old man was in a whirlwind of confusion, trying to be strong for his beloved wife, but beginning to cry himself, seeming to be at his wits’ end as he was helped into the back of the ambulance.

After they had left and the scene calmed, it dawned on me why he was in such a panic. It wasn’t just how much he loved her, or the fall, or the blood, or even that it was his fault. It was that this was the end of their life together. He’d been doing his best to keep his wife, so old, so frail, at his side, to care for her, to be with her always. Maybe he wasn’t strong enough to help her bathe, maybe her diapers didn’t quite fit right, but they were together. He was passing. Just barely, but passing.

And now, with this one little mistake, this one little goof, this one little slip of the aging mind, it was all over.

The hospital staff would be concerned about her hygiene; people would be round the house to judge whether he was capable of caring for her; competency would be questioned, and the decision would not be in his favor. He’d be going home alone to that house tonight, and every night from now on. It was over, all over, and it was his fault.

I reached down and picked up the melting drumstick, holding it gingerly as I walked to the trash can, threw it in, and went back into the store to buy my M&Ms.”

Let’s take a second to let it all out. I probably share this fear with quite a bit of people out there, but I’m afraid of growing older. I’m afraid of being unable to care for myself. Unable to complete the simplest of tasks because I’m too weak. I’m afraid of outliving my loved ones, of losing my parents. I’m afraid of getting old and realizing that I haven’t done half of the things that I promised myself I’d do, that I haven’t done anything with my life. I’m afraid that I’ll die before my husband, as selfish as that sounds. I’m afraid that I’ll die alone. I’m afraid that my mind will deteriorate to the point where I don’t lucidly remember the life I would have led. I want to die before all that happens, but I wouldn’t want to leave my children. There’s loss in each choice, and I guess I’m not the one to make the choice about when I go. I can only hope to live a fulfilling, satisfying, meaningful life with laughter, love, arts, happiness, and all that wonderful stuff.

I want to find love like that.

Though, however long I sit here thinking about what I want out of life, I guess I should plan for the future. Take initiative. Make my life what I want it to be. Not just me, but you too. Stop taking the shit life deals you, don’t just sit there. You can either wallow in shit, or use it as fertilizer. Be the change you want to see (in the world). Turn over a new leaf. Another long string of clichés. Tldr; fuck all of this. I can be afraid of getting old and not accomplishing anything, but instead, I’ll tackle it head on, and maybe I’ll get old and at least accomplish something.