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     Volume 8 Issue 63 | March 27, 2009 |

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Aging Gracefully

Zeenat Khan

Out of nowhere my daughter told me a few months ago that the fine lines under my chin are more visible now-a-days. For a moment I didn't know how to respond. I was a little baffled and perhaps made a little apprehensive by such an honest comment. Quickly I flashed a big smile and told her, "I've noticed those lines too. I simply cannot stop the natural aging process!" Then we had a hilarious discussion as to how all the wrinkles can go away just by waving a magic wand. "How?" I asked. "Well, of course for starters you will need plastic surgery," she said. "What! Me having plastic surgery? So that I can look a few years younger? No way!" My daughter felt a little embarrassed for putting me on the spot. She then advised that a short and hip hair cut, and a pair of high end designer eyeglasses will do the trick for now. For the last couple of years for Mother's Day my daughter has given me anti-aging skin care products. I think being an only child, at some level fear has set in that her mother is aging. If I use anti-aging products that vouch for retaining the youthful look, they may add to my longevity.

For now, there is not a single grey hair on my head that's visible. Why would I need plastic surgery? The only way I will consider myself a senior is when I get my official senior discount card and that's quite a few years away. With my turning the big fifty, the AARP magazine (the syndicated official magazine for people over age fifty) has started arriving in my mailbox. I tell myself that it must be for my husband. I collect it from the box, and once inside the house, I put it on the nightstand on his side of the bed. Call it denial, but I am not ready to ride the senior wagon yet. The AARP magazine is filled with all the health tips, such as how to make hearty chicken and noodle casserole in minutes, so that the seniors have a lot of time to participate in other activities. They advertise additional health care coverage that is not normally covered by Medicare or Medicaid. The magazine features all the senior "doers, dreamers and pioneers," making a difference in their lives or the lives of others. They interview famous people, from legendary Quincy Jones to actress Glenn Close, who are dedicating time and effort in helping impoverished children around the world and breaking the stigma of mental illness. These are all noble causes, right? But somehow I turn away from this magazine. It makes me a little depressed, especially when I see all the 'before-and-after' surgery photos. I feel similarly when I watch the announcement of Digital TV's transition deadline being extended into the summer. After all, in this day and age, who has analog/non-digital TV except a handful of seniors? After flipping through a few pages and seeing the ads for affordable ideas in long term care insurance for terminally ill patients, I had enough of that magazine. I threw it away, put on my walking shoes and baseball cap, and took a brisk walk towards the coffee shop. What happened there was an eye opener. When I paid for my coffee it seemed that the Pakistani cashier charged me a
little less than usual. I looked at the receipt and saw that he gave me a senior citizen discount. I was speechless and felt a little hurt. After finishing my coffee, I walked up to him and asked why he gave me a discount. After all I did not ask for it and demanded to know if I looked like a senior citizen to him! He sensed my anger and said, "Well I can see that we are from the same region and I just wanted to give a discount". "Liar", I said, under my breath and walked out. My mouth tasted really bitter and I decided I do not like coffee anymore.

During my lone walk back home, I started to think about my daughter's comments from a few months before. Maybe plastic surgery can hold off me looking my age by a few more years. More and more seniors of age fifty and above are taking advantage of it everyday. For some it is a necessity to feel better about themselves. The natural process of aging is not a pretty prospect for most seniors. Even though in America the word senior is a very natural expression, I do not like this word. I do not want this label in order to enjoy certain discounts reserved for the people who are aging. I stop cold every time I see an ad for a funeral cost insurance. The idea behind this is simple. An average burial costs thousands of dollars. The idea is to take care of your own burial and funeral costs when you are alive, so that you are not going to leave this burden on the loved ones. This may seem a little morbid but it is practical. I have this love hate relationship with the AARP magazine, always flipping through it when no one is looking.

One cannot ignore this rude awakening to one's aging process. With aging comes one's inability to make sound decisions. The elderly are often victimised by the predators of this society. We read horror stories about how they are getting ripped off their life savings. There are many ploys to dupe them into giving up their rights and dignity. The very vulnerable elderly, in some cases, are even getting murdered by greed-consumed family members or care givers.

In today's society, seniors are often ignored and made to believe that they are useless. Their age and experience count for nothing. Seniors start to view themselves as others do, i.e., as old and weak. Their mind often stays sharp but then slowly starts to degenerate, because they are made to believe they are unimportant. In many western countries elderly parents are shoved into nursing homes to live their golden years alone. The lucky ones with money get to go to the assisted living communities playing golf and taking daytime excursions with others their age. The poor and the sick elderly spend their days in state sponsored nursing homes where there are no perks, where they are often subjected to neglect and abuse. Such disregard for seniors is a shame! They are already forgotten here on earth . It is horrible but nonetheless a naked truth.

A few weeks ago I was watching an episode of Boston Legal (an Emmy winning show on TV for many years about a law firm in Boston), where an ex employee (now a senior) tried to bring a lawsuit for every imaginable discrimination against seniors. None of the young lawyers would even listen to her, let alone take her case. Finally, the head of the firm who himself was over fifty (a baby boomer) was convinced by her to try one case. They both agreed that there are no shows on TV appropriate for seniors to watch, who on the average watch six hours of television everyday. The lawyer's points were compelling and he passionately argued that media should cater to the needs of all viewers. As a result of society's blatant disregard for the seniors, they are forced to spend millions every year buying DVDs of World War II documentaries and any movies that they have enjoyed in the past. Finally, a neurotic, eighty year old judge, who initially said it was the most absurd case that he was unfortunate enough to sit through, reluctantly gave in and ruled in favour of the plaintiff (a senior). This is just a dramatisation. In real life things of such a nature hardly happen.

I am not going to be naive here and say that the care of senior parents should fall only on the children. I know in today's society it is not possible to allocate one's majority of income in caring for an elderly parent. That is where the government assisted living facilities come in (here in the West.) Not everyone is as lucky as my own mother. In her mid-nineties she lives with my brother at his house with round the clock nurses. Her every need is attended to by my brother and his family. The night I saw the episode of Boston Legal I stayed up awake in bed trying to remember my mother's face, albeit with some difficulty. I got up from the bed and went to the computer to look at her recent digital photo that was sent to me by my brother. Her face looked the same as I remembered. She is my mother and her face remains unchanged to me; only the lines on her forehead seemed a lot more numerable than before. I counted all nine of them; each for one decade. I can say with utmost certainty that she is one person that I know who has aged gracefully. Then and there I decided that I want to age the same way and will leave my marks on my forehead, for my daughter to decide whether I aged gracefully or not. But that is still a long way off. For now I am going to take each day with stride and move forward without thinking much about what is coming next. In years to come my own daughter may look at my photograph and count the lines on my forehead and decide for herself whether I lived up to the art of graceful aging.

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