“If I ever get that bad, promise me you'll put me out of my misery. Take me out behind the barn, and just shoot me.”
No, that's not a quote from someone who has yet to be bitten on The Walking Dead. That's the line that many of us have heard from our elderly parents. We go to visit grandparents in the old folks' homes, and see how so many just sit or lay in one spot all day, completely oblivious to their surroundings. They've lost the ability to eat, to dress themselves, to talk, to remember the things that are important...things we take for granted every day. And it makes a person realize that they don't ever want to have to live like that.
It's the line my dad said on numerous occasions when he was in his final years. Cancer had taken its toll on his body, and he did dialysis three times a week. We still went fishing, chatted on the phone, everything we had always done, but his days were always full of that damn whirring machine. He got his wish, more or less, when a freak car accident one night on the way home after dialysis took him from us. He got a quick reprieve from the suffering he knew that he may have had to live with for years, and skipped that depressing life in a nursing home — even if they, hopefully, give a rat's ass about you.
Now, those days have come for my mom. With the dementia and Parkinson's only in their beginning stages, she can still do some things, thank goodness. One of those things is joke with me about how shitty old age can be.
With #Logan reportedly being Patrick Stewart's last hurrah as Professor X, and Charles Xavier now suffering from what appears to be dementia, it got me thinking. There are a lot of movies out there that depict getting old, and they do it in so many ways. Humorous, sad, tragic, happy, adventurous, and with Logan, even thrilling:
With the exception of the death-defying car chases, it seems so many of those movies show at least some truth in how those last few precious years can play out in a person's life. Let's take a look at some that have resonated for that reason, not just with me, but with all who have wrestled with end-of-life struggles.
Gran Torino (2008)
Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski is holding on to two things from his past, one good and one bad: his cherished 1972 Gran Torino, and his memories of the Korean War. A racist, stubborn old codger who also happens to be dying from lung cancer, Walt has a son who is trying to convince him to move into a retirement community after the death of Walt's wife. On top of dealing with that, more Asian immigrants are moving into his neighborhood each day; one of which tries to steal his car as part of a gang initiation.
Racist old Walt doesn't like that at all.
Witness one of the best Hail Marys in the history of hailing Mary:
Anyone who has a father who grew up in the '50s probably has a father who loves classic cars. Mine did, and he also had some bad memories from the Vietnam War. The love of cars and the nightmares of war never truly leave some of those old folks.
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Staying on the topic of cars, one of the worst moments in a person's life, for everyone involved, has got to be when the day comes that they aren't allowed to drive anymore. No matter the cause, doctor's orders, kids with or without the best intentions, or realizing you can't safely be behind the wheel anymore, it can be a painful moment. Having to tell my mom she had to stop driving, even if it was the right thing to do at the right time, hurt like hell, especially since it had also reached the time to tell dad he needed to stop driving right before his accident. I realize Driving Miss Daisy isn't all about an old gal who isn't allowed to drive ever again, but Miss Daisy's son makes her give up driving, and over the course of the next 25 years, she and Hoke Colburn become the best of friends.
If only everyone had the same luck after that “taking away your keys” talk, or won an Oscar for it!
Grumpy Old Men (1993)
Old men can really just be grumpy as hell. Old age catches up, and the more aches and pains they get, the worse they get. But one or two constants can remain, like it did with my dad: A shady spot to sit and cast out a line with a beer in one hand and a pole in the other, and they're happy again. They could sit there all day and not catch a thing, and walk away happy because they were fishing. I walked away from every fishing trip with Dad happy for the time spent with him, whether we caught zero fish or dozens. Of course, the moment you get home, it doesn't take long for the grumpy old man to come out again. That's probably why the way that some old men want to go is how Pop goes in Grumpier Old Men:
Dad's illness happened late enough in life that I was a young adult when we were all going through it with him, so I really didn't ever wish a spaceship would come down and whisk him away to a magical planet where he would never be sick again. But in Cocoon, the old folks got just that chance. On a different planet, of course, but still a chance. That magical solution to all our pains and troubles is never available, but it's fun to see it happen in the movies.
The Bucket List (2007)
The desire to cross things off your bucket list is something you never lose, whether you're in the final stages of cancer, or going off to college for the first time. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman took it to the extreme, but we all have things we want to do before we go, even if they're not as grand. Something as simple as seeing the world's second largest electric coal-mining shovel just a few hours down the road from home made the day of this author's dad.
Others don't want to leave this earth peacefully...they really do want to hit the grave running.
As Hunter S. Thompson so famously put it before he himself went:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
The Notebook (2004)
This one can be tough. Some marriages are like Nicholas Sparks portrays in some of his over-the-top sappy love stories, and some aren't even close. Neither way is necessarily right or wrong, but Sparks' book and movie shows what some spouses might wish for their lives; to make it all the way to the last word of the last page of the book together, and close it at the same moment. Noah and Allie fulfilled some romantics' dreams and left this world together, something I'm sure my parents would have loved to do, despite not ever quite having that picture perfect marriage.
The movie ending that puts all movie endings to shame:
Here's to you, dad, and all the old codgers and dames, both real and fictional, who make old age so damned interesting.
Here are some reminders that you, too, may be getting old:
- The Jumanji Kids Now Will Make You Feel Insanely Old... But Totally Amazed!
- Stan Lee Embraces Old Age Like A Legend
- Chunk is HOW Old?! The Goonies Cast 29 Years On Will Make You Feel Totally Ancient
- Here Are 11 TV Flashbacks That Will Make Children Of The '80s & '90s Feel Old
I'd love to hear your stories, if you have them, of your adventures with old age and the good and bad that comes with it. Drop me a line on twitter or in the comments!