By Alice Herb
When I first started working as a bioethicist, I spent a lot of time with on-the-job training addressing issues related to older adults. One of the most startling ones to me was how many seniors complained about having their possessions stolen. I was only 54 at that time – a mere child! But I learned after a while that this perception of being robbed could easily be created by a number of factors, including the everyday tasks they could no longer perform, the many activities that were no longer possible, and the many things they were accustomed to doing that were no longer within reach. Some of the deprivation was minor but others were major. Now that I am an octogenarian, I can understand that feeling of being “robbed.” Let me explain.
Of course one of the most basic fears of older adults is being “robbed” of time. We can no longer look ahead at years to come and say, if not now then some other time. It’s more accurate to say if not now, then when, if ever. The lockdowns and confusion that this pandemic has caused are problematic for most seniors. Will I ever see my grandchildren again? Will I get to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, weddings in the flesh again? Will I be able to meet with family and friends for dinner or for theater or for just going to the movies? My granddaughter lives in Canada now. I haven’t seen her in two whole years. I speak to her on the phone but I want to hug her. The virtual world lacks warmth. Movies are another big loss for me. I always said that I never had a drinking problem because if I was upset, I would run out to the nearest theater to see whatever was on the screen (though not violent stuff). Now, I try watching movies with streaming services but that’s not enough for me.
I’ve also been “robbed” of travel. I can’t travel now. I haven’t been anywhere farther than 100 miles from New York City. And that’s been mostly going back and forth to my beach house. Three years ago I was still planning to visit places to which I had never been. I wanted to travel the Silk Road, wanted to see more of Africa and South America. The longer this pandemic goes on, the less likely it will be I can even visit my cousins in Sweden ever again.
Well now let’s get to a really big loss for me. For my whole life, I loved shoes. Not clunky ones, not sneakers, not sensible ones. I love high heels, slingbacks, open toes, leather, suede, brilliant colors with matching bags. In fact, as a TV producer, I did a segment on shoes. It was at a time that the Metropolitan Museum did a retrospective on shoes and at the reception, the centerpiece was a huge high-heeled shoe made of ice. Another time, when I was in Toronto, I visited the Bata Shoe Museum, thinking I would spend an hour there but actually spent more than 4 hours. And yes, I wore high heels. I bought the expensive ones. And when in a bad mood, I would go shoe shopping. But I’ve had to give all that up. I now collect miniature shoes! Not exactly a wonderful alternative.
Talk about shopping. I loved to shop. Even groceries. I like to see what I am buying. I love to window shop. I love to keep up to date with what people are wearing as I walk from shop to shop. Museum going is another one of my passions. I can still go but must do so in small doses.
The larger losses are the really hurtful ones. I am hard of hearing. I can no longer listen to music over the radio, TV, or recording devices. The crackling, static, ambient noise is deadly with hearing aids. My son wants me to give up driving although I haven’t had any problems driving. It makes me feel that my independence and autonomy are being taken from me and that makes me feel helpless and as old as Methuselah- and that I am being robbed.
Is it any wonder that we seniors feel like we’re constantly being robbed? I haven’t even tried to list all of the pleasures or activities that are no longer in range. It is too depressing. But why don’t you, my dear readers, let me know what has been taken from you. At the same time, remember it is a gift to live this long and be able to control much of our own lives in our own homes, or even at a senior facility. In that regard, I am still in favor of old age!
Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 85+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]
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