from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: The Dog Year Calculator

April 8, 2021

Roy the Cairn Terrier

We have an aged, blind dog. Roy is 12.5 years old. He is a Cairn terrier about 12 kg in weight. All these factors are important in working out his life expectancy. How long will he be with us?

Once upon a time, we multiplied a dog’s age by 7 which would make him about 87 years old in our years. But many Cairns reach16 or 17 years of age – or 112+ human years. Some say, for smaller dogs you multiply by 5, so Roy would be 67.5 years. I think that is closer. Apart from glaucoma, Roy is a fit, dog: no arthritis, no diabetes, no cancer. I found a schedule online which measure life expectancy by dog weight. Roy is between small and medium and on this basis would be 66.5 years. Another method is more complex: That’s the natural logarithm method. Take the log of the dog’s real age, multiplied by 16, add 31 to the total. I used this method of calculation: Roy’s natural log is 2.53 … x16 and add 31; this makes him 71.5 years old. Roy is my age.

However, he now has a morbidity – for a dog – he is blind. So, what do I subtract from this life expectancy to get another estimate?

For us too, there is the question of life expectancy. How to work out the progress of our lives during Covid-19? Quite apart from having to spend 14 months dodging Covid-19, we have had to keep going mentally. And in the process of managing this hiatus in our lives we dabble even more with the question, not of how old we are, but how long we still have. Because that limited time just got gobbled up in an unexpected way. Many have suffered more than we have in Australia, but the hiatus is world-wide. Even if we are OK, others in the family are not. Our Zoom meetings reveal this changed universe.

And in the passage of this time, I believe that I have used up more of my remaining life than 14 months. That is, I have aged more than 14 months. The sense I once had of my age has been disturbed. Why? It’s as if the parameters of my life have changed. Maybe I have less control, maybe I have spent too much time reading about ways of death or near-death experiences of Covid-19 sufferers. I have purchased an oximeter, recommended medicines and vitamins and a stock of basic foodstuffs – all for Covid-19 survival. We are on the cusp of old age and the media’s concentration on the ‘elderly’, on ‘morbidity’, on ‘shielding’, revolves around a discussion of the odds of our survival.

So, what do I multiply the 14 months by to get my true age? 2x? 3x? Some days it feels like this. Normal was a long time ago. Old age and its mental and physical restriction were not yet upon us. Now they beckon.

In May 2020, The Washington Post published an article on this:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aging-in-place-many-of-us-feel-way-older-than-we-did-eight-weeks-ago/2020/05/06/cb7efdf0-8b13-11ea-ac8a-fe9b8088e101_story.html

‘We are not only sheltering in place but aging in place.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has exhausted us. Time feels heavy and draining. Tuesday was a week. April seemed an eternity. Grief, anxiety, tedium, loss of control, restriction of movement, none of them rejuvenating, are part of our regimen.’

And the NBC.

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/covid-19-turned-active-retirees-elderly-people-overnight-made-us-ncna1243790

‘Looking at ourselves during virtual cocktail hours with friends on Zoom, we now notice our wrinkles, the flesh hanging on our necks and the double chins on display when the camera is pointing up, the grey and even white roots exposed, the shaggy beards and fuzzy eyebrows — and we look someplace else on the screen. That isn’t ourselves we are seeing but a version of ourselves the virus has revealed, a version we thought we had rejected but secretly fear is really who we are.’

Today, I met with 3 friends – all published writers and poets. All of an age. And they agreed with this premise. The time of Covid-19 has prematurely aged us. One said she feels worn out by writing and will not take on any major task as she now has the sense of being unable to finish it. And then there was her comment that Donald Trump had made it worse. The stress of his Presidency, his denial of the severity of Covid-19 and refusal to lead, and then the anxiety of the ending of his term made her anxious. And this anxiety has not lifted.

When we took our dog, Roy, to Gavin, the vet specialist in ophthalmology, we expressed concern about how Roy would adapt now he is blind. Gavin said dogs were different to us. Roy would not look back and mourn the loss of his eyesight, nor would he anticipate a future where he would be unable to see. Gavin believed that blind dogs – those not in pain – make the most of the lot they are dealt. If he is well cared for, he will not be suffering with the weight of the knowledge of his blindness.

It is we humans who bear the psychological strain of loss, of looking back, comparing our Covid-19-altered lives to what might have been and looking ahead anxiously.

‘Days’

What are days for?

Days are where we live.

They come, they wake us

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:

Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question

Brings the priest and the doctor

In their long coats

Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: older

June 30.

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their son
g*,

I have aged beyond the normal passage of time during these last 4 months. Way beyond.  No question in my mind. I did not preface that statement with, ‘I feel I have aged …’. I find it hard to work out exactly why this is so. After all, living in South Australia we have been extremely fortunate. Our busy lives have been curtailed, but not drastically. There was an early panic evident in the rush to hoard food supplies and we learnt the Australians were particularly active in stocking up their larders. During those early days, the dread for me related to the fact that we did not know how bad the virus would be for us, what nature it would take. Stories abounded. The collapse in our stock market in February emphasised the approaching storm: health and wealth threatened!

But the issue has more to do with the nature of our lives as retired people. Maybe before 2020 we were living in a fool’s paradise, ignoring old age and the waning of our abilities. But now we are labelled as a group as vulnerable, many with ‘comorbidities‘ The percentages are widely discussed – an ultra-high death rate is assured for our age group. A retired friend was told by his doctor son that he must be serious about isolation because if he ended up in hospital it was unlikely that a ventilator would be assigned to him. Triage would be in operation.

So, the story is out: we are at the end of our lives and nothing new, nothing amazing, nothing significant remains for us. Together, my husband and I had planned travel to Indonesia – an interesting bird-watching trip through remote islands and I had organised a visit to Seattle to see our daughter and to travel with her to Yellowstone National Park. We have always been travellers and being able to pursue our hobbies of birding and photography in new places has enriched our lives. In December 2019, we felt that we still had the energy and enthusiasm to do this. I am not so sure anymore.

But my premature aging cannot be just this! It has more to do with optimism, or the lack thereof. I looked up the synonyms for ‘optimism’. They are: hope, confidence, sanguinity, buoyancy, cheerfulness. And those words hit home. I don’t think they describe my world at the moment. It’s closing down. Being so in touch with the persistent bad news, watching the numbers, does not make me happier. Maybe the way forward is to deliberately NOT immerse myself in the news. Ignore it all.

‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
’ as Dylan Thomas wrote.

That’s a bit dramatic for me and my angst.

I came across this article from the HBR. ‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.’

https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?fbclid=IwAR2D8HMqDiAvBpfX_ksJNUZUZbwxzr1Fs-XJViFbMNpOzVI-jih2LVRp1w4

Is this the word for this sense? Grief? Perhaps that is closer to my aging idea. Grief – looking backwards at my life and at the confusion of our present times. And maybe I just have to deal with this. I have never been a person with depressive tendencies. If you survive boarding school you develop a certain resilience! And I can look to my father’s example, how he conducted himself in his old age: never sorry for himself, never without kindness, always interested in the world, always generous.

When he died, my father left a letter for my brother and me; it contained this poem. An ancient Sanskrit poem.

‘Look to this day
for it is life
the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence:
the joy of growth
the splendour of action
the glory of power.
For yesterday is but a memory
And tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.’

A gift. Surely, that is enough.

*WB. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium