Alienation and The Elderly
Autumn fades to winter and Ada wakes to the natural light which her apartment will be starved of in the coming months. As she stirs, she feels the pangs of pain in her legs which will provide the backdrop to her day.
Ada describes the feeling as numb to anyone who cares to ask, mostly because, to describe the actual pain would leave the poor soul awkwardly searching for the right words to say. But to the doctor who makes calls to her room, she is much more forthcoming – the pain can be unbearable.
Before she calls the nurse to help her fragile frame out of bed, Ada does what has long become routine; she reaches for the photo album on the bedside table.
To Ada, the book is more like a time machine than a time capsule. Static images instantly come to life as her eyes brighten up in fascination and nostalgia. She has many pictures but likes to fixate on those of her late husband, George.
In the pictures, George still has his cheeky smile and his vitality. This is the George she wants to remember. When she is reminded of his hollow, phantom-like body during his last moments, she pushes the thought to the recesses of her mind.
It has been fifteen years since George passed through the line of reality and into the dreamscape of Ada’s photographs. She is unwilling to let time forget him, mainly because she loved him deeply, but also because part of her is afraid that, if it does, it’ll forget her too.
In a way, she suspects it already has.
According to Ada, the rest of her family now feel like strangers. When she was left in the old house after George’s death, it hadn’t taken long before talks were held about what was best for her. It was as if she had become another part of the furniture; an object which was discussed only in terms of practicalities and financial jargon.
Of course, her children were sympathetic but Ada finds it funny how, once out of sight in the care home, she slipped from their minds on the outside. On a good day, Ada will laugh at the irony – “and they say it is the elderly that are forgetful.”
Having lost herself in thought for thirty minutes, Ada finally calls for the nurse.
There is a level of acceptance that her body can no longer provide the autonomy which she craves but she wishes she didn’t rely on others to do the basics. Ada had always been a reserved, somewhat private person.
Her biggest fear of growing old was to slowly lose her mind and become a confused burden for others to pity. Instead, she realised that at least on that account she wouldn’t be so self-conscious of her own predicament. Could one lose her dignity if she wasn’t aware she lost it or ever had it in the first place?
The nurse finally arrives.
Ada smiles at the nurse and begins to speak but you are beginning to lose attention to her story; you may have already left the article for something new. It is, after all, part three in a series and you are far too busy to read the others or to empathise with Ada’s life – she’s fictional in any case.
Except, in many ways, she is not fictional.
One day you will wake up, move through your morning routine, only to pause slightly longer while gazing into the mirror. If you took a closer inspection, you might stop to consider whether or not you are really the same person you were all those years ago.
There is also a real possibility of ending up in a care home or a hospice as your body begins to fail you. If you are unlucky, your family or others might not find the time to connect with you. If you are even more unfortunate, they may find it hard to cope with your helplessness and begin to resent your complaints and your outdated references.
You may wish yourself and them to be treated better than Ada or Gregor Samsa. For this to happen, however, you must hope that you and others continue to make the effort.
The question is, are the Samsa family the exception or the rule?
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