By Dr. Nihal D. Amerasekera Que Sera Sera – Whatever will be will be. Since Doris Day sang this song in the Alfred Hitchcock film of 1956 ‘The man who knew too much’ its poignant lyrics have stayed with us for its glaring honesty of the uncertainties of life. This has been a tough year [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The epilogue – enjoying the twilight years


By Dr. Nihal D. Amerasekera
Que Sera Sera – Whatever will be will be. Since Doris Day sang this song in the Alfred Hitchcock film of 1956 ‘The man who knew too much’ its poignant lyrics have stayed with us for its glaring honesty of the uncertainties of life.
This has been a tough year for me and the family. After my reprieve from the ‘death sentence’ a brand new life has unfolded. It is one of acceptance that this will be a ride into the sunset with ups and downs. As a septuagenarian I have no career, the children have left home. The purpose in life is to enjoy every day as it comes. Seeing the children prosper in their careers and life are blissful pleasures beyond measure. Being a grandparent is a delightful experience. We now live in a world that adores youth and all its pleasures but there is no shame in being old. Everyone can have a sense of purpose.

Although many feel lost and depressed at the mere thought of retirement or reaching 65, it is certainly not the end of life but the beginning of a new era. There are many of us “oldies” around than ever before who are incredibly determined to make the best of the new life. With our wisdom we are a benefit and not a burden to society. These are my twilight years and I am determined to make the best of it.
Longevity with good mental and physical health is a gift that has to be earned. Although there are never any guarantees the world is full of advice on how to do it. The internet is a repository of such information. Despite all that there comes a time for each one of us to call it a day.

There are many things one can give up. I hate gardening and have moved into a flat with no garden. I have given up ambition, winning the argument, rivalry and stress. Just allow someone else to be the winner. I put fewer demands on myself these days. There are many things I have wanted to do and didn’t have the time. Well now is the time for it. This ranges from books to read and places to visit. As the world has got smaller with easier and cheaper travel there is the ability to go to the far corners of the earth. I want to experience the wonders of nature and see the art galleries and the museums. I started on this on my retirement and grateful I was able to do so much so far. Now I realise that with every passing year there is a certain loss of energy which makes travel and all it entails that much harder.

Nostalgia is an overwhelming emotion. The volume of archived memories increase with age as is the desire to reach them. When awake at night there are always the inescapable journeys to the past. The happy times spent with my parents and extended family are priceless. Those special joys of my schooldays bring such great pleasure. Medical School had its unique brand of youthful fun and humour despite the hard grind. Building a career and bringing up a family brought its own enjoyment and heartaches. Delving into the past can also bring sadness, bitterness and grief. Regret is the demon you don’t want to carry with you into the future.

The love of cricket is for life. It is hard to put into words the joy it brings at any age. My strictly limited talent for playing meant I would be forever a spectator. As I now watch cricket at Lords or the Oval I reflect on my years as a spectator watching school cricket under a tree in old Ceylon from Campbell Park to Reid Avenue and the Galle Esplanade to Asgiriya.

Although more and more people are aware of the prerequisites to live longer and healthier, finding a good doctor is crucial. They are like gold dust – hard to find. The doctor is my physician and confidante who will guide me through life’s health issues by preventing the avoidable and treating the possible. There are also the inevitable ‘running repairs’. The annual check-ups although a bind are essential to keep the human engine in good shape. We are what we eat and have to do so sensibly maintaining a normal weight for the height.

Since Roman times we have known the importance of exercise – “Men sana incorpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body”. A brisk walk for 30 minutes for at least five days a week is one that is widely recommended. I live by a 395-acre park with tree lined paths conducive to walking whatever the weather. Dancing, Pilates, Tai Chi, Yoga and many other forms of exercise do achieve the same end. Losing one’s balance is a common problem of ageing for which there are special but simple exercises.

To exercise the brain is important to avoid dementia. I like to do my daily Sudoku and maintain my school website. But playing cards, chess or draughts or anything that uses the brain to think are equally good.
By now we all have realised happiness can be an elusive dream. Wealth, power and status may help to achieve it but there are no guarantees. In the troubled world we live in there are many who need our care. Helping the less fortunate, poor and the disabled will bring lasting happiness. There is much work available in the voluntary sector to help the sick and the suffering.

There is no better time to make peace if you have rifts in the family. It is easier than you think. Once this is done the climate at family gatherings improves tremendously. Joining a community centre is useful to meet people of a similar age and outlook. Good friends are the greatest source of pleasure and support in later years. I feel much happier in some ways than in my younger days, now that I don’t feel the need to prove myself. I am able to control my emotions so much better and am less prone to anger even when others say things that are upsetting.

Reading newspapers from home online is my daily ritual. Still it gives me a shock and a pang to read the names of friends and relatives in the obituaries. This will indeed be the pattern in the months and years to come. The sooner I accept and acknowledge this, the easier my life will become. I have accepted and trained my mind that none of us is here forever. Our turn will come to depart this world. From Biblical times, humans have been taught of heaven and hell. I was immensely comforted by a graffiti on a London wall “Hell is empty, all the demons are here on Earth”. Nevertheless it is important to lead a good and useful life. For this, one doesn’t need a religion but if you have one hold on to it. It is wonderful to have someone superior to help and guide you when times are hard. Amazingly I do not fear the end but the way I will exit the world concerns me at times. We have no control over many things in life and death. Finally we are all at the mercy of the awesome force of destiny.

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