The passage of time sometimes feels like an indomitable opponent and other times it brings a sense of possibility.
Regardless of how it’s viewed, it can’t be overcome.
Those of us living in life’s last decades know there’s no bargaining with time. We know our past, understand our present but don’t know our future. The way we think about time passing influences our behaviour and feelings. It also reflects our assumptions about aging.
Time As Opponent
In the past few weeks, I’ve mourned the death of Harry Belafonte and Gordon Lightfoot. It’s humbling to know that even superheroes can’t overcome the indomitable opponent that is time.
Although we may fight it, none of us can overcome aging. Bodies decay. Even if we survive cancer, heart disease, stroke or a serious accident, the reality is that bodies have physiological limitations.
Predictions and projections on lifespan vary considerably. The Brookings Institute estimates the human life span at 97 years before inevitable cellular decline leading to decreased physical and mental capacity. Some people age more quickly, others beat this number. The U.N. estimates the average life span as 83 years — much less than Brookings.
All predictions are couched with cautions about genetics, access to health care and economic factors as determinants of longevity.
Atul Gawanda, who wrote the best-selling book, Being Mortal, reminds us of the inescapable realities of aging and death. Whatever we may do to try to prolong life with various treatments and medical interventions, life ends. Gawande urges us to face the inevitable and focus on living well into our later years.
A year ago, my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma for which there is no cure. Because his health was generally good, he had a six-month course of chemotherapy that put the cancer into remission. Eventually, he regained strength although his overall health is fragile. His oncologist is confident that, with maintenance chemotherapy every twelve weeks for the next two years, the cancer will remain in remission for some time.
Watching him struggle with the effects of chemo, especially the loss of energy and body weight was harrowing. Now that the intensive chemotherapy regime is over, we are dealing with the ongoing changes in our lifestyle.
Living with a terminal illness diagnosis brings limitations. It affects both partners in a marriage. I am constantly vigilant and watchful. My overall stress level is much higher.
A Positive Perspective
Keeping a positive perspective helps with managing a life-threatening illness. Having a diagnosis of cancer doesn’t mean that autonomy, dignity and joy are sacrificed. Thankfully, my husband has maintained his positive attitude about life and remains optimistic about regaining energy. He’s in the process of renewing his passport so that we can travel!
Time may be the optimal opponent but, by viewing time as an opportunity, it can be re-framed to create a perspective that makes for the best regardless of the circumstance.