I grew up mostly without grandparents. Yet, throughout my life, I have been blessed enough to connect with elderly people who have assumed that role in my life of their own accord. About nine months ago, one of these people, a man called Albert, was riding his mopad through his hometown when two teens on scooters ran him off of the road. He hit his head on the sidewalk and was out for a couple of minutes before regaining consciousness. He was brought to the hospital with a major head wound and minor brain trauma. It was touch-and-go for a while; he's 70+ and he'd suffered a major ordeal. For weeks, he was in a coma, then he recovered. When he woke up, his family had the tough job of telling him this had happened to his monumental farmhouse while he was out:

Someone, most likely a group of teens, had set fire to it and it burned to the ground, along with his cat. His horse was saved by neighbors. I can't watch this without crying; so many memories went up in smoke. I can't even imagine how Albert feels.

I visited Albert in the recovery home. The strong, vital man I had once known was gone. In his place sat a broken man, a man barely able to walk, even with a walking aid. A man who could barely talk, who remembered only fragments of his life due to his head injury and the shock of losing everything. He recognized me, when I came. He smiled, sadly, and tried to tell me what had happened to him. We spent an hour together, until his frustration and my sorrow overtook us and we parted.

I visited him again last week. I don't live close to him anymore so I have to drive out for it. I'm ashamed to say I had not made the time to do so until last week. His family had set him up in a nice apartment, with new furniture which did not fit him. He could walk again, at least indoors, and he could form coherent sentences. He still had to search for words, on occasion, especially names and dates. Even though he seemed better, he was still the broken man I had encountered in the recovery home. 

The man who had taken care of me when I was away from home and scared shitless of being without my parents, the man who took me swimming every week because he liked the company as he soaked his rheumatic body in hot water, the man who had always been of good spirits, cried as he walked me to my car. The man who always accepted a hug stiffly, laid his head on my shoulder and cried, without restraint or shame. Out of sorrow, pain and gratitude. And I held him, fighting tears, until he recovered himself.

I cried in the car, on the way back home. I cried for him, for what he had lost and for what I had lost in him. I cried out of anger that this had to happen to a man like him, who had spent his entire life taking care of kids like me. I cried because I felt my own mortality weigh heavily on me. 

The title of this post is a song lyric, 'Song for Molly' by Lucy Kaplansky. It's about her memories of her grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer's. It's not on youtube so I'm linking you the lyrics

I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm scared shitless of growing old, of losing my faculties, of being unable to do what I want to or need to do. I'm scared of losing myself, and my world, to illness. There are two Delphic Maxims that deal with old age:

"as an old man (be) sensible (πρεσβυτης ευλογος)
On reaching the end (be) without sorrow (τελευτων αλυπος)"

There was great pride and wisdom in reaching old age--but then again, old age in ancient Greece, wasn't exactly like old age now. Medical sciences, better living conditions and a multitude of aids can prolong life for years, even if the quality of life diminishes. There is no longer honor in dying. Life gets prolonged to a point where one cannot die without sorrow. 

I spoke to a friend of this visit, and of old age and he said that he hoped he would never grow old enough to waste away before the end. He would rather die a few years earlier if it meant having a higher quality of life until that point. I agree with him, but what do I know? I'm only twenty-six years old, twenty-seven in a month. If all goes well, I have at least forty years ahead of me before I need to worry about things like this. And yet, I already worry. 

I hope I can be sensible and without sorrow towards the end. I wish the same on Albert. I wish he can leave the dark cloud behind, that he gets to live long enough to find peace with all that has happened to him. But he does not want to live anymore, not like this, and I understand why. In his mind, he has lost all of value; he has already died, his body just does not know it yet. So he goes through his days without drive or goal. He just goes, until the end, in sorrow. And I can't do a thing to help him. And that hurts.