“If only I’d known…”
We are certainly living in ‘interesting’ times, with a queue of worries and question marks facing us: Brexit, global warming, Australian bushfires and then floods, and now, overshadowing, everything Coronavirus…
And frustratingly, as individuals there seems little of significance that we can do about any of this, except to keep calm, carry on washing our hands and hope not to become ill. Helpful facts and advice are in short supply and anyway, seem to change day by day.
It is forcing us all to think of the future as less certain, especially for those of us who are in the vulnerable ‘over-70s’ bracket. At first it seemed as if we might be a necessary sacrifice to a ‘survival of the fittest’ policy, now we are apparently possibly facing ‘house arrest’ for at least four months! That gives us plenty of time to face what future we have left.
I read the other day that there are only two facts anyone today can be absolutely sure about: one, that if we are alive we have therefore been born and two, that we will die. We didn’t ask to be born, as many a grumpy teenager has reminded his parents and most of us would prefer to ignore the uncomfortable other fact. We skirt around it with clumsy euphemisms – people ‘pass’, ‘suffer loss’ and anyway death often happens unseen, in hospitals or ambulances.
In previous centuries death was part of life (sorry!). My great grandmother Grace’s journals of 150 years ago record deaths of family and friends very regularly, with sadness but acceptance: death and bereavement was unavoidable. Nowadays, we tend to assume that as long as we eat sensibly, do our 10,000 steps, always belt up in the car – hey presto, death will be permanently put on hold.
But of course it won’t be, as John and I have been reminded by the recent deaths of several very wise and clean-living good friends and contemporaries, including our daughter-in-law Sam’s father, John Raine.
And all the time we’re all getting older, however fit and reasonably young we choose to see ourselves.
Our three children were far clearer sighted than we chose to be and at first I was slow to take their tactful hints and suggestions very seriously. They were very supportive but clearly relieved when ‘we’ decided the time had come to downsize.
The postman delivering Marie Kondo’s book promising sparks of joy as long as we rid ourselves of most of our possessions/clutter was a slightly hurtful surprise but actually proved very helpful. The next surprise was on the same sort of lines, but its title rather more abrupt: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”!! (I chose to find that hilarious.) The subtitle is somewhat kinder – “How to free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter”, the whole point being trying not to leave a ghastly and stressful mess behind when one dies. It sounds morbid but it isn’t, not that we’ve acted on anything yet but do seriously hope to.
And on a slightly different tack, our daughter Sara who with Derek and Tom had survived – but only just – the recent Australian bushfires, was telling us how many people there now have an emergency case at their front door, containing passports, birth certificates, bottled water, emergency rations, a notebook and pen, batteries, a torch and basic clothes, medication, lists of contacts etc so that in a sudden crisis they are prepared, with everything essential immediately to hand.
If we are facing several months of enforced inactivity, maybe now is the time to make our own preparations, to take stock, tackle what we should (and hopefully still enjoy what we can) so that when the end does come we do not leave a lot of mess and unnecessary responsibilities for the busy next generation.
There are plenty of useful tasks – and fun projects – to tackle. And the advice to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may ” also sounds rather alluring…
We’d be wise not to plan exotic overseas trips or cruises. What can you suggest?