Work has forced me to reexamine my attitude toward aging. I’m still not concerned about the loss of youthful look and beauty. Wrinkles, gray hair, and arm flab are all part of a natural process. Why fight it and not embrace it? But growing old, at some point, will mean living in a body that is no longer yours.

A lot of the elderly that I meet lead a life of isolation due to their deteriorating health and decreasing mobility. They live with their children, grandchildren, sometimes great grandchildren; and although they are loved and cared for, they are no longer part of family routines. The whole family sit at the dinner table, but they’d have to eat by themselves in bed.

Men and women experience loneliness and frustration equally but in different ways. In general, a man’s world turns upside down when everyday activity is a reminder of his dependency. Even though he might have always been waited upon in the house, it’s still a big shock going from being served as the head of the family to being helped because he simply cannot do it himself, from a position of authority to a situation of helplessness. The women seem to adjust better to the role of the cared for, but they suffer more acutely from the lack of interaction. As most of their friends and acquaintances are also advanced in age, visits are quite rare, even in small villages that usually sustain a strong sense of community. Communication is further reduced as they’re also likely to be hard of hearing, or impaired in speech. So many of them get excited when I visit. They babble away even when they cannot hear what I’m asking, even when they know I could barely make out their words.

Who will talk with you in your 70s? This question was in my head and for the first time, I seriously saw the advantage of a nursing home environment while riding my scooter to the Hoi An Red Cross this morning. Coincidentally, the Red Cross building also doubles as an assisted living facility for the elderly who don’t have any immediate family members. Government-run, it is a modest blue-painted 2 story structure. Each room has 2 single beds, few amenities; the bathroom is shared. I know old people who don’t have blood children usually pity themselves because in this society, having kids is one of the most important marks of a lifetime. And nursing home is still looked down upon as a last resort. I didn’t talk to any of them but as I arrived and left, I saw them chatting over morning exercises, sharing their simple meals. It seems like that level of interaction is not always available even when they live at home.

One day when I’m senile, and my husband/lover is no longer by my side, I hope I’ll find a sensible way to say: “It’s been a good life. I think it’s time to go.”

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