Saturday, March 18, 2017

OLD AGE, A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

That book title sounds innocent, perhaps even helpful.  At my age I thought it might give a few hints on how to get more out of life.  Well it does, sort of,  but it is really philosophical and pointed at dealing with the human avoidance of our inevitable death.  Michael Kinsley will make you laugh a bit while you ponder the bigger questions of life.  Just to be clear most readers would consider his humour on the black side, but like good humour it hits a point.

Michael, himself  learned  at a relatively young age (23 years prior to this book) he had Parkinson's which he thinks of as an early signal for his own mortality forcing him to think ahead.  He was fairly successful  as a journalist and editor for such media platforms as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Slate, Harper's and The Economist.  We all tend to not think of our inevitable death, but as we age it becomes harder to ignore and some of us are hit with a fatal disease that sharpens your focus.

When we wake up to the end, we have three choices:  denial, acceptance and confrontation.  Michael feels acceptance is no strategy.  He mostly opts for denial with the concept that his disease will have minimal impact on his life.  He admires those who choose to confront.  He chooses to take a humorous perspective.

One bumper sticker, "he who dies with the most toys wins" is contrasted with "you can't take it with you."  In the end possessions are cast aside as not being the ultimate goal.

Having increasingly noticed that longevity is often accompanied with dementia, many people would  amend their future hopes.  Cognition becomes identified as what we want to hold onto as long as possible and when it is diminished so is our life value.  Outside the book, I am reminded of a Pacific Island where they view Alzherimer-like diseases differently.  The victims are often happy and in all cases relatively oblivious of reality.  Maybe they are better off and although we fear becoming that way, the real problem is the extra concern and labour of the care givers.  No one wants to be a burden, but maybe it is an easier exit if one is unaware of it.

As I am a very small fund raiser for Parkinson's I was interested in some given information.  Side effects are often overlooked, but include for some patients, depression, bad skin, insomnia and a gambling compulsion.  I had heard of deep brain stimulation that gives relief to some, but didn't realize it was performed while the patient is conscious.  The author advocates stem cell research.  He is well aware that his body and mental faculties are declining.  Told by one doctor that he would lose his "edge," Michael was very conscious that his success had hinged on his "edge."

Another concern is for our reputation.  Although his Parkinson's disease has been proceeding slowly Michael has noticed that people assume he is not quite as bright as he once was or as capable and tests confirm this notion.  Reputation, or better still fame seems a worthy goal.  He runs through a lists of dominant people in different fields and concludes that most are not remembered.  Jane Austen was not famous at her death, but about 75 years afterwards with the help of relatives her fame began to arise.  Earlier in the book he relates an account with Robert McNamara in his 80's admittedly making amends for his role in the Vietnam disaster, something the author points not everyone gets to do.

Another goal associated with impending death is to leave a legacy  As a boomer he has a lot of criticism for his own group, deferring to what he thinks was a more deserving group--the ones who fought WW II.  There is a lot about how greedy each generation can be, but hard to deny the previous generation did something noble.  He ends on a political note, about how he thinks we boomers should leave a legacy.  He thinks we have spent our government into unimaginable debt and that the estate taxes should be revived to reach more people, not just the filthy rich.

Fortunately for us who are only vaguely aware of what happens at the end of old age, Michael has retained some of his edge and we are the better for it.

Mostly acknowledgements are skipped, even for an enjoyable read, but this is truly unique and humorous.  He thanks a long list of his doctors for allowing him to live long enough to write the book,

To read about another angle on death, the disposal of dead bodies, http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/04/death-is-natural-but-disposal.html

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