As We Age: Reminders of how fragile life can be

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My mother is heading to the post office this week to pick up a sticky label that says “fragile.”

She plans to stick it on her forehead to remind everyone in her eldercare home to take a wide berth as she’s navigating her way around the place.

I suggested that she’s being a bit sensitive.

She had a singularly bad day last week. One of the women she shared meals with went from a bubbly conversationalist and an early morning hiker to a name in an obituary column in just three days.

One day she was off her food, the next she was missing from the dining hall, the third she was hospitalized and passed away that evening.

Another friend, in a different home, had a fall and someone contacted my mom to see if she had a phone number for this person’s son because he needed to contacted immediately to come and see her.

There’s usually one reason for that kind of request, although no medical information was shared.

Just a couple of days before this, my mom and her friend had had a long and  pleasant conversation on the phone.

Finally, in the evening of this same day, she received a call from another friend whose husband has been sent home from the hospital with an understanding that he has less than two months to live.

There is a certain resolution that comes with aging that much of the news from friends and family will centre on the challenges of healthy living.

But three terminal notices in the same day are a bit hard to take, to say the least.

In an ever-shrinking circle of friends, losing three in short order is both sad and an emphatic reminder that frailty is, in fact, your own condition.

Different people handle that in different ways.

Some live by the carpe diem motto that if today is going to be the last day, it might as well be a good one.

Those are the optimists.

Some live in the fear-of-dying mode that makes them so cautious and anxious that they become shut-ins and recluses.

Those are the pessimists.

And others aren’t sure how they should feel.

You can’t cheat death, but you don’t have to throw open the door to it, either.

Thus, my mom’s strategy of getting on with her business but putting the fragile sign on her forehead.

She knows she can’t take anything for granted, but she’s not planning to wrap herself in bubble wrap in a recliner, either. She did comment that another day like that, however, and she might get her phone taken out.

A little humour, even in the darkest moments, never hurts the thought processes.

One of the challenges for her, I find, is simply the time she has to think. Sitting in a home where virtually everything she needs is taken care of, she spends a lot of time just sitting, reading or looking out the window.

That offers plenty of opportunity to consider just how fragile life can be for everyone.

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare. Email him at


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