Senescence: The last part of life (1922)
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - September 29, 2019 - 12:00am

This is considered probably the best book on aging. What happens when we age, the vision gets blurred, the knees weaken. Still we continue to function as well as we can waiting for the end. G. Stanley Hall’s Senescence refutes all we thought life should be at its end. Although published in 1922 what it says is still true today despite all the advances in medicine.

It is old age that in a sense is the prime of life – when we would have enough experiences and lessons to leave the next generation.

Stanley Hall refutes the glories of youth. He turned it upside down and taught instead that senescence has greater value than youth provided we had led a productive life. Youth is the time we save for a legacy of a life to pass on to the next generation.

That wisdom is not about sticking to life but accepting that death is inevitable.

My husband went through several illnesses before he died but he fought it all with the help of medicine and will power.

“We thought we had it licked. Death is a certainty for all of us, but it is certainty we avoid even as we grow old. My husband, Bert as I called him (Berting to his family and friends) died at 75. The time of death was put at 12:06, an awkward time straddling between the last hour of August 20 and the first of August 21. The death certificate states the immediate cause of death as cardiac arrest.

But it had not been that simple. From the time he first became ill, a mild stroke two days after New Year’s Day, he would lurch from one illness to another that he would overcome and win the battle for life. From stroke to colon bleeding to pneumonia – he surmounted it all and was near full recovery just a few days before he died. He was able to stand with help and sat on an easy chair for hours. He was going to be well enough for his 76th birthday on Oct. 2. That was the schedule.

His doctors told him for a man his age and what he had undergone and won over was a wonder. One of his doctors teased him that she would wager her fat he would not suffer another stroke and was well on his way to normalcy unless, of course he had an infection.

And then it came. He did get an infection and one we could not fight because it came from within him, a virus from chicken pox that stayed dormant in all those who had it in childhood, but could be reactivated when immunity was weak and comes up in old age. It worked so fast we could not get at it.

An emergency dialysis was needed to get rid of the toxins from the virus ravishing his body. But this not before he had won yet another battle, yet another risk to hurdle when a catheter was inserted close to an artery to prepare him for emergency dialysis. It was a success. He was now ready for dialysis but when the machine was wheeled in his vital signs all normal – suddenly went flat. CPR was done several times as doctors and nurses attempted desperately to revive his failing heart. But it was for naught. He had come to his life’s end with our children. Asking the doctor what was the last sense to go before death. Listening he said. Say the last words you want to say before he goes.

I had often used the phrase like “a death in the family” to describe sad feelings on occasions but it is not until a death in the family happens that the full force of the phrase assumes its meaning and appropriateness. I was privileged to see deeper into his character.

At the heart was a tenacity for perfection and achievement and his frustration when he fell short of those standards. It was a joy to know that the children learned the lessons of his life well. Their eulogies came from childhood experiences of having to live with a demanding father who wanted his children ‘to go and cross the abyss.’

I wanted a quiet funeral, no announcements, and only the immediate family to be present during the last rites. The next generation won and had a more public funeral albeit a short one, he was not cremated as he wished but we opened the casket to be consistent with that side of him which was public. Immediately after the funeral we rummaged through all the pictures and files not so much of a career but of a lifetime that embraced both the mundane and the extraordinary.

It must be said that without his support I would not have been able to go through the controversy which followed the writing of the Untold Story of Imelda Marcos. He accompanied me to an exile which cut down a ‘safe’ and rising career as an executive in Meralco Securities as others had chosen, whether it was under the Lopezes or the Marcoses. But he followed the road to high adventure and more importantly it was as he said the right thing to do.

While in exile in London, he organized the Confederation of Filipino Overseas Organizations that became a model for politicizing Filipino workers who did not want to get ‘involved’. For now we are occupied shifting from grief and pride. As for me when the children will have gone to their own careers and families my task will be how to reconcile preoccupation with mundane things such as politics and writing columns and the experience of death and its incomprehensibility. For their father’s last rites the children chose Sarah Brightman’s Nella Fantasia:

In my fantasy I see a just world

Where everyone lives in peace and honesty.

I dream of souls that are always free. Like the clouds that float.

Full of humanity in the depths of the soul. In my fantasy I see a bright world. Where each night there is less darkness.

I dream of spirits that are always free. After forty days the children and I put together forty doves brought them to the top of the mountain of the Terrazas de Punta and set him free.

AGING LIFE SENESCENCE
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