Growing Old, for Better or Worse

To the Editor:

Re “It’s No Joke, Old Age,” by Roger Rosenblatt (Opinion guest essay, Oct. 1):

Kudos to Mr. Rosenblatt for telling it like it is to be old. At age 80, although I am fortunate to be in good health, I still experience the things he writes about. As some wise person said, old age is not for sissies.

One loses abilities, friends and words, and then there is worrying about the “hereafter” — walking into a room and wondering, “What am I here after?”

But he fails to mention some good things about old age: Our invisibility means that we are free to do what we want, say what we want, wear what we want and show up or not at various places.

We old folks usually have fewer responsibilities, needing mostly to care for ourselves and maybe also an impaired partner. And I agree that grandchildren are a wonderful bonus of old age. Old age is a privilege that those who die young never enjoy. It is better than the alternative!

Elizabeth R. Rosenthal
Larchmont, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Yes, indeed. Whoever expected old age? I certainly never did. I continued to smoke even after Reader’s Digest ran an article, “Cancer by the Carton,” because, in my opinion, life after 70 was not worth living.

In a couple of months I will turn 102. A joyous, happy 102. Grateful for each day.

It’s true that many days are not good and I feel ready to let go. It doesn’t seem to work that way, however. I just keep going on.

A day came when I had to decide whether to keep on smoking or keep on breathing. The day when I realized that I no longer felt the compulsion to smoke was one of the happiest of my life.

I have long thought that I would not grow old, only older. I still am not old. I do not expect ever to be old. I am a vital elder who has learned to live with what is and to relax and enjoy all that my life has to offer.

I sincerely hope that Roger Rosenblatt was just being humorous. He certainly is not talking about me.

Patricia Krueger
Middleton, Wis.

To the Editor:

Roger Rosenblatt’s article on the challenges of aging, such as exiting taxicabs, is very cute. It encourages one to forget that there are old people who can’t afford taxis. Or don’t have access to decent medical care, let alone comprehensive medical care such as Mr. Rosenblatt can access. Or don’t have doormen or grandchildren to make up for the deficits of old age.

I can appreciate 83-year-old Mr. Rosenblatt’s humor because I am close to his age, and I am lucky enough to share his problems. But I can’t help thinking about those less fortunate, and hoping that they don’t read about his problems, which they may well envy.

Cali Gorevic
Cold Spring, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Speaking as an on-the-cusp boomer baby born in 1945, I identify with everything Roger Rosenblatt wrote in his epistle to this growing demographic of the elderly. I took particular note of the fact that he and his wife moved from the seaside back to New York City “to be near medical facilities.”

Not being such strategic thinkers, my husband and I moved to the Central Coast of California to be nearer a son and discovered that accessible medical care in this area was a challenge to navigate. Finding a primary-care physician proved to be daunting, as the demand exceeds the supply.

The importance of accessible health care within one’s retirement relocation area should not be underestimated. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently issued a report that projects that a diminishing supply of physicians forebodes “a profound impact on the quality of care and patient health outcomes.”

My husband and I are now contemplating a relocation to be nearer a major medical center so we are a taxi drive away, not the present 45-mile trek, for my chemo treatments.

Barbara Allen Kenney
Paso Robles, Calif.

To the Editor:

When someone tells my septuagenarian self that I am now wise, I remark, “I was always wise.” As for impending deafness, a part of me is pleased. It means I won’t have to listen to the feckless talk in the world.

By the way, I can still throw a baseball so fast and hard that it would hurt through a thickly padded catcher’s mitt. Ten-year-old boys swoon over my athletic prowess. I am proud to say I am an exemplar of arrested development.

Patricia Burstein
New York

To the Editor:

It’s pretty ironic that just weeks after publishing an important and thoughtful section on “Can America Age Gracefully?” (Sept. 10), you’ve now smacked us with Roger Rosenblatt’s “It’s No Joke, Old Age.”

Sometimes aging is no fun and our bodies do find unusual and unwelcome ways to betray us. There’s no question that keeping our sense of humor and not taking ourselves all that seriously are great ways to cope with that.

But perpetuating ageist stereotypes is no less corrosive when we do it ourselves. Our culture and our media will never abandon those stereotypes unless we call it out ourselves.

Here’s a thought experiment: Instead of focusing on the taxi-exiting dilemma, what if Mr. Rosenblatt opted to use his wit and his talent to encourage companies to design cars that are far more age-friendly? What if he expanded his view to include companies designing other everyday objects that confound us? Wouldn’t that be one productive way to age gracefully?

Ellen Rand
Teaneck, N.J.

To the Editor:

Reading Roger Rosenblatt’s comments about old age reminded me of a question my mother asked me over a quarter century ago when I was her caregiver. She was struggling with dementia. We were sitting on a park bench.

She asked: “Who was that poet who wrote: ‘Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be’?” Robert Browning, I told her. “You know, Kathy, he lied.” She didn’t sound angry; she needed to correct him. She was living proof he had gotten it wrong.

Old age in Victorian Britain was often a time of terrible suffering, followed by painful death. I did not say to my mother that perhaps the poet wanted to push back against that bleakness, to offer words of comfort.

Instead, I put my arms around her. “You’re right, Mom. He lied.”

Kathy King Wouk
New York

To the Editor:

While I am becoming accustomed to my physical and cognitive decline, I am shocked daily by the lack of deference and respect offered to seniors.

No offered seats on public transport, no efforts to move aside in crowded elevators or on crowded sidewalks, and a constant barrage of ageist jokes and remarks. It’s character- building, I guess.

Jonathan Copulsky

To the Editor:

Getting old doesn’t stink. Getting sick because you got old is what stinks.

When I turned 65 eight years ago, my new hobby became going to the doctor.

Dave Stone
Springfield, Ore.

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