Thursday, 13 September 2012

Essay: Tragedy of getting old

                                              With my 11-year-old daughter Tintin at home last April.

ONE FORESEEN tragedy of getting old is the growing desperate want to see your loved ones back home as much as you can. 

This is most especially when you’re in a country like Papua New Guinea and living all by your self -- a country where you seldom see your friends, the ones you can talk to, not about your daily struggles at work, but about your inner fears, your apprehensions about the future, particularly when you’re on the homestretch of finally getting out of the road that leads you every day to your daily grind, to finally retire for good. 

To many who are facing twilight years like me, it would be a dead-end road.

As I turn 65 next April, I longingly wished that I were with my dearest Mom, who would be past 86 then, and my siblings. I longed to see my only son Juan Paul, my daughter-in-law Andrea and my grandchildren Little Llano and 16-year old Nailani, who, unfortunately, are in far away Vallejo, California. 

As a father, it has been my big misfortune of having been estranged from my son even during his growing-up years, something that I frankly admit of having failed to resolve with flying colors. There were opportunities in the past that opened up for me to do so, but I let them slip my hands. 

My son Juan Paulo aka Primo Leone and Llano.
But one consolation is that the couple sent me the pictures of my lovely grandchildren, maybe to remind me how old I have become and that my bloodline has passed a second milestone.

And I yearned for my 11-year-old daughter, Tintin, who right now, is the only bright spot in my daily existence, maybe because of my being able to talk to her a number of times during the week through the cell phone. 

Our conversations may be short and sometimes quick but that’s all that matters. Hearing her little voice has always been like heaven and I know that she too in her young age feels the same.

In my talk with her a few days ago, Tintin told me: "Daddy, hindi po ako pumasok ngayon …"

Her opening suddenly triggered something nasty inside me, stirring up my blood pressure, a little sign that something was not okay.

“Bakit, anak … may sakit ka?”

 “Wala po Daddy … ni-regla na po ako, eh … tinawagan ko ho ang titser ko na hindi ako makakapasok kanina…masakit po ang puson ko kasi…”

 “Hahahahah …. Dalaga na ang baby ko …!”

It was a happy-sad news. Happy, because my little girl is growing up fast, turning 12 in just a few weeks from now. 

Sad because it’s a reality I have to confront with: that I am also growing old fast!

Entrusting the looming twilight years in my Lord’s hand, I feel very safe. Up to these days, he has not forsaken me. Over the past 18 years or so of my being here in PNG, there had been troubles that cropped up along the way from which He readily plucked me out to spare me from further discomfort and harm. 

So, with that, I have to have faith in Him without fail even though He could disappoint me one day. But then, there’s always a good reason why, a mystery which I wouldn’t want to cast any doubts on, or question.

By nature, however, I am a big worrier. I worry too much about a lot of things even to a point that doing so after all had become a big waste of my energy – both mentally and physically. 

All this despite my clear knowledge and long-held belief that all I have to do is to worry not about a thing, and instead, pray for everything because things would simply turn out all right in God’s time. Our Father in Heaven and our Lord Jesus Christ will always make my day. That’s one thing for sure.

On the other hand, if I would allow doubts to set in, thus needle-prick me to worry about the future on the assumption that I am doing things all by myself, which simply means that I am not imploring Divine intervention to make things easy for me, I could see a bleak future for me as a retiree. 

Here’s why.

When I finally quit the gridlock a year from now – which could come like a blitz – what will I do? 

Would my employers in PNG still find use in me at such an age and provide me something that I could busy myself with and get productive while looking at my image on the mirror and wonder how much longer should I continue working to survive and sufficiently provide for my loved ones? 

Having considered that I have been working here in Port 
Moresby from middle life that started to make itself felt in my physical being more than 18 years ago, during which I scrambled to save for my retirement, thus depriving myself of the enjoyment of having a happy-go-lucky life that every single guy here in Port Moresby with nobody to worry about except himself, enjoys, I have thoughtfully regarded that: “No … I want to go home and grow old with grace in the midst of my loved ones. 

But should I really do that and start a new phase in my life?

After living alone in this country, I would therefore go home to Manila upon retirement, start a new home and live alone as there’s nobody for me to call a wife of my own. It’s a bad prospect however you look at it because I could see nobody – a life’s partner -- to grow old with. At 65, your “sales value” as far as the opposite sex is concerned has plunged to nil.

My daughter shall only be 13 by then, barely out of the elementary school. Since she has been raised by her aunt in Bataan from the time she was two years old and therefore, has enjoyed the unselfish love and warmth of her aunt and her happy family, I would not wish to interrupt the flow of her joyful life as it has always been.

Tintin is being taken care of by her auntie since her biological mom – a former relation of mine -- is also away, trying to eke out a living, and this time -- in Qatar. When she was in Manila, she would only see her daughter – my daughter -- once in a blue moon, and that’s when she had enough money with which to buy her some stuff as “pasalubong”. 

But I would wish to be around while she grows up, a great gift of opportunity that any dad worth his salt would like to thank for. I know it’s about time that I do. My daughter would be about 19 years old when she finishes high school. Assuming that she pushes for a college education, she’d be 23 by the time she earns a degree. 

By that time, I would be 82 (!), again, assuming that I survived those years to enjoy the fatherly pleasure of seeing her receive a college diploma. 

And maybe, I would no longer be productive as I am still now; I may even be walking with a cane or being pushed in a wheelchair! Suddenly, it occurred to me: How do I continuously support her till she finished her education during my advanced years?

I know how an 80-year-old person looks, especially men with either hand which would now be shaking from some diseases like Alzheimer’s that is known to attack old age. 

While others have faded in the background, as they withered into senility and on the brink of entering second childhood. I know this for a fact from my aunt who sported infant’s hair when she passed away at 92!

Looking at my mother when I was with her last April during my work leave, I felt some sadness because she was no longer the nimble mom I used to have around during my younger days. At 85, she’s now nursing a knee that’s being battered by arthritis during cold nights and when she had eaten something especial from the sea. 

Some nice-eating dishes are now a no-no, that’s according to her doctor, for the sake of her heart. Her hair is white all over, which she washes on occasion with blue-black shampoo in a sachet, making her crown light-bluish-looking. And she’s proud of it. And a lot more that go with being a golden-ager. But mom at her age is still sharp as razor.

In my golden age, who would take care of me?

Many retired Filipino-Americans are opting to come back to the Philippines for just one reason. They wanted to spend the remaining years in their lives with children instead of rotting in care-giving facilities and nursing homes – a rut that has become the inescapable dead-end for many Americans who have retired with pension money and gone very old and sickly. 

The retired Fil-Am -- instead of spending their retirement dollars in care-giving facilities -- would rather use them with their family. 

Doing so, they would be helping their children’s family financially and at the same time enjoy the warmth of their grandchildren’s company until they breathe their last. The Filipino way of caring for their elders is what Fil-Ams would like to experience in their old age.

In my case, I don’t see a similar scenario, having no family of my own. But who knows? Along the way toward my twilight years, some miracles from heaven could happen to make my growing much older a new, gratifying experience. 

Have faith, have faith, Alfredo.

My daughter-in-law Andrea (right) with her daughter Nailani.

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