Image by niallkennedy via FlickrBy PAULA SPAN
My father is a relentlessly upbeat guy. “Up and around!” he reports when I call. “Keeping busy!” He tells me about his volunteer work, his card game winnings, the (seated) yoga class he enrolled in at the library. His favorite refrain is, “I can’t complain.” (And yes, yes, yes, my sister and I do know how lucky we are.)
He does tell me about the funerals, though. At 87, watching his peers struggle with the physical and psychological trials of old age, he goes to a lot of them. He keeps losing people he’s known for years — onetime co-workers, senior members of his synagogue, neighbors in his tightly knit apartment building.
His friend Molly, too frail in her 90s to remain alone in her house, recently moved to the Midwest to live with her son; they’ll probably never see each other again. The weekly card game now involves an entirely different group of guys than when he started years ago, and it sometimes stalls for several weeks as the players have health crises or move or die. Replacement players are growing harder to find.
“These things keep happening when you’re over 80,” he told me.
He goes to funerals because, he said: “It’s just the right thing to do. It shows that you feel bad, that you’ve lost a friend.”
What do you say to this litany? You want to offer something reassuring, something to lighten the sense of loss, but you can’t evade the reality: He’s outliving his friends and family members. His cohort is thinning.