The fine old aunt with the friendly face was sleeping when I popped into her hall again. I wanted to deliver a few pieces of watermelon and have a quick chat, but her post-surgery sleep was deep.
I met her the day before while I was waiting for a friend of mine to come out of the theater after her foot operation. I was pacing up and down the long corridor to pass the time when the lonely figure in the corner bed caught my eye.
A hospital is not a happy place and when someone lies without a child or crow during visiting hours and there is not even a bunch of flowers on the bedside table, the picture of the hospital is simply sad.
As I approached, her wrinkled face smiled from ear to ear and she greeted me like an old acquaintance. She does catch me a little off guard with her question about whether there are marches… I reassure her that, as far as I know, everything is calm in Cape Town, but she doesn’t seem convinced at all. But just as quickly she changes the subject and chirps merrily about the nice nurses. However, I see that the lively eyes jump through the door every now and then as if she hopes a daughter’s or grandchild’s face will appear.
A nurse walks in a few minutes later to say my friend is back in her ward and it’s time to say goodbye. I wish the aunt all the best, but as soon as she turns around she asks in a thin voice: “Are you coming back?”
This encounter made me sad, because how many people there are who have to go through the trauma of an operation alone. No one and nothing to look forward to when visiting time arrives. And we grey-earthers are often the “disposed”. Driving away from the hospital I also thought of the old uncle in a clothes shop a few days ago. He stood at the counter and tried to pay for his hiking boots, but the machine rejected his card twice. He became extremely anxious and although the shop assistants were polite, there was no compassion. They simply sent him “to the bank” to find out what was going on. Head upside down, he asked that they please keep his shoes for him.
Age inspires fear, despite so many people’s reassurance that “the best is yet to come”.
Yes, maybe if you are healthy, have some money in the bank and good friends or family. It was recently reported that only 7.2% of retirees in South Africa feel “financially well prepared”. Be that as it may: growing old is a path we will all walk and experts say we have a choice: live in the shadow of anxiety and fear or enter the new season with light and hope. People who are positive about aging seem to enjoy better health as the years go by and are also more social. And apparently we are going to be exactly who we are dink we are going to be
John Lennon’s life was cut short at just 40, but I believe he was spot on when he said:
“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears”.
In the meantime, I hope that aunt in the hospital gown has had a visitor and that the uncle is walking in his walking shoes.
- Lizma van Zyl is an award-winning veteran radio journalist and presenter with a master’s degree in journalism. She is a founding member of the Cape commercial radio station, Smile 90.4FM. Lizma can get up every Friday afternoon at 12h45 The Mercury Rises be heard on RSG. She is the presenter and director of the series on climate change.
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