The Precipice of Aging

The Precipice

For sixty years they had been wed,
In thirteen seconds they would be dead,
She is frail and oh so ill,
But to live without her he has no will.

Perching on the precipice high,
Holding her close with a smile they will die.

The love they have shared for all of these years,
Keeps them together shedding their tears,
He’s watched her strength drain from the illness inside,
But living without her he cannot abide.

Perching on the precipice high,
In love’s embrace they soon will both die.

He wrapped her warmly in her hand knitted shawl,
Then walked her slowly to the elevator stall,
From the fourth to the twelve the lift it did rise,
Then one flight of stairs to reach their demise.

Perching on the precipice high,
Hand in hand from a fall they will die.

Arm in arm to the edge they do walk,
Holding a gaze that held silent talk,
Just one final kiss that tasted so sweet,
To their death they did plunge on the dark silent street.

Lying all broken from precipice high,
Their love has transcended as their bodies do die.

Terry Wiens – Jan 2005

Summer is flying by faster than the speed I am able to get things done.  Life is like that, at 20 we think there is lots of time then all of a sudden fifty years has flown by and we start to realize how many of our agenda items are still waiting for our attention.  I have too many things left on my agenda that I have continually put off for time management sake.  What that “putting off” has taught me is that using time management as an excuse to avoid dealing with agenda items in the here and now leads to “crisis management” later in life.

As someone who has spend his life believing he was a social justice warrior I come down hard on myself when I see something I “put on the back-burner” having reach a crisis proportion.  Life can be crazy that way, we wait until we reach a crisis point and are forced to confront those issues we “tabled”.  We are now in the midst of that crisis and it has nothing to do with opioid’s.

The crisis I am referring to is the rising homelessness and suicide rates confronting the current generation of seniors.  I could provide an endless list of articles, news stories, reports and studies but I shouldn’t have to.  People just have to step outside their personal silo’s and open their eyes.  It’s all around us.  We shouldn’t have to be reading news headlines like those surrounding the Wettlaufer case or cases like Fran Flann (an 82 year old discharged from a Vancouver hospital to a homeless shelter) for us to recognize the crisis.  This has been going on for years.  We shouldn’t need private studies like the recent BC Seniors Poverty Report Card to understand the aging crisis.

The first seeds of awareness for me were planted after watching Amos, a 1985 Kirk Douglas movie regarding life in a nursing home.  I was only 35 years old so I put my thoughts on the back-burner as something to be tackled later on.  After all at 35 you feel like you have all of the time in the world to tackle issue so we justify putting it off as our own personal prioritization process.  It made sense at the time but in hindsight was a soft approach to avoid the guilt of ignoring it.

Flash forward 33 years and I still have it on the back burner but the nature of the problem has now reached crisis proportions.  It is time to move past being a picador and turn up the heat to a matador level.  Very few others seem to want to.  I made a commitment to myself after writing the opening poem thirteen years ago and I am just now getting started.

I wrote the opening poem in reference to a tragedy that took place in Victoria back in the 90’s.  I didn’t know this couple but I later lived in the apartment building where it occurred.  The situation they found themselves in dictated, in their mind, that they had to take dying with dignity into their own hands.  They had run out of support systems as well as financial resources.  This was also a time when the headlines were full of content on the Sue Rodriguez case so their solution was in the headlines every day.

Regardless of your age we can no longer turn our back on this crisis.  The problem is growing, not shrinking.  The Assisted Living Federation of America reports that the average age of assisted living residents is 86.9 years (female average age, 87.3; male average age, 85.7).  Female residents (73.6%) outnumber male residents by almost 3 to 1. The majority (76.6%) of assisted living residents are widowed, and just over 12% are still married or have a significant other.  These stats represent the “silent majority” demographics of seniors, we have a tsunami of “baby-boomer” seniors now so this problem isn’t going away.

Pew Research Centre paints a very different image of that generation of seniors so we can no longer keep this crisis on the back burner.  Step back from the precipice and take a stand for our elders, that is where the wisdom is and we can’t just throw them to the curb…


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