The best is yet to be

‘Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,’ wrote the poet Robert Browning. Will the elderly in this country, who now number more than a million, endorse this sentiment wholeheartedly? Unlikely, because growing old is not an attractive prospect. Mostly, one enters the sunset years of life with unease and a sense of trepidation.

Of course, no stage of life is without its drawbacks, but, with the exception of old age, each has its compensations. The infant is totally dependent on its caretakers for its survival, but almost always succeeds in getting attention. Teen years are fraught with turbulence and doubts, but are shot through with idealism and energy.

Middle age involves hard work and responsibilities, but one enjoys security and independence. Last of all comes old age.

Now the chance and the ability to work are taken away leaving no room for relief or change. Suddenly, there is more leisure than one ever imagined and time lies heavy on one’s hands. The experience one has gathered proves to be of little account and the feeling of being sidelined grows. Advancing age also brings infirmity and enfeeblement.

This results in an increased dependence on others and causes distress and dissatisfaction. Worst of all is the thought of death and what the unknown hereafter signifies and may bring.
One slides into what is popularly termed ‘a second childhood’. However, not only is it devoid of the charms of infancy, it also proves an annoyance and a burden on those around us.

With job and remuneration gone and family responsibilities over, the old run the risk of becoming redundant and unwanted. Complaints and criticism soon follow, but instead of mending the situation, it merely worsens it. The elderly feel neglected while the caretakers feel exploited and put upon. It is a common situation that cuts across all cultures. I know of a middle-aged daughter-in-law who has made a fine habit of displaying attention but hardly listening to her mother-in-law. This, however, contributes only to an uneasy peace.

What then is the remedy? It rests mostly with the elderly. It is wise to keep complaints to a minimum and to look at the brighter side of things. In the words of the poet Tennyson, ‘though much is taken, much abides.’ Reading, listening to music, spending time with friends and meditation are all simple joys that bring satisfaction. Command attention than demand it.

This is achieved by showing understanding and restraint. Kind words and ways never go out of date. Even the smallest infant, it is seen, reacts favourably to praise. Also the better part of giving advice is to listen to others; it is the best way of leading them to their own decision. Give advice only when it is asked for.

Many older people exclaim that they would rather die than be a burden on others. For them how very apt is the quote, ‘Never mind dying with dignity, try living with dignity.’

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