There is a right time for everything,
and everything on earth
will happen at the right time.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1 ERV)
My partner of 49 years and I did a spot of spring-cleaning in our home this morning, amongst which was the awful job of defrosting a 40-year-old fridge, cleaning our too-many brass ornaments, and cleaning a forty-something-year-old collection of knick-knacks and tiny, precious things in our equally old printer’s tray (yes, a real printer’s tray).
Not to mention having to hose out our municipal wheelie bin because rotting fruit from a tree in our garden had lain in it fermenting in the heat for days before being taken away to the dump by the rubbish truck.
This was all basically mindless work — it didn’t require much mental energy, although it did help us to work off some physical energy and it left us feeling good, once it was over and done with.
So, during this process I focused on what would happen to all these precious little items in the printer’s tray, as well as what would happen to the fridge and its contents once we shuffle off to our “next home.”
We age the same as non-LGBTQI folk
While being a part of the LGBTQI community has many unique challenges and wonderful differences from the rest of the world, in the long view of life we are just like everyone else needing to answer all those final questions.
Over the years we have, by means of our wills and Letters of Wishes, attempted to make the best provision we can for what will remain behind once we’re both gone (our great hope being that our elderly, precious cat will already have preceded us by then); but of course, not everything can be foreseen or be taken care of, come the time.
We have no children who would either care for us in our dotage or clean up and dispose of what we leave behind. We can’t know at this point if, when the time comes to die, the last survivor will even be found and helped in a time of crisis or need.
We have many nephews and nieces living far from us (a lot of whom are now reside outside the country) who would no doubt wish to pick up any financial (and other valuable) assets that we might leave behind, but I doubt that many (if any) of them would (or could) make the effort to show much care or energy towards us in our dotage, or afterwards; or even if they should.
Close, trusted friends (especially where we live now) are even fewer; and those we do have are coping as best they can with their own process of aging and the many challenges it presents. As are my two siblings.
We all have the same questions
Who, for example, will deal with what’s left behind in the fridge, come the time? How long will it stand in there before anyone needs to, wants to, or has to, do anything about it?
Will the executor of our wills (which is a trust company and not a person) get involved, or will the auctioneer that we’ve asked to sell off the stuff that remains, do it? It’s work that neither of them is required to do.
Or will a charity be requested to come and do it for those it supports?
Or will the local second-hand shop come and pay a pittance for a house full of valuable stuff? And enrich themselves on it?
Or will it just be left to decay until someone notices we’re not around any longer?
Our local church appears quickly to have forgotten us since we’ve had to relinquish our “jobs” within it due to declining health, together with age-related physical constraints.
It has been four years now since we stopped attending services and even longer since we stopped paying our monthly dues to the church; and (even taking COVID constraints during the two past years into account) none of the clergy or the church council with whom we worked as active members for 15 years has shown any apparent interest in finding out why we no longer attend, how we are… or even if we’re “still around.”
So, no help will be forthcoming from the church either, it seems.
What becomes of our things?
Apart from the fridge then, what of the printer’s tray?
It is home to many precious tiny things given to us by friends and family over many years, together with items collected or bought on various holidays, overseas trips, and in other ways during our time together. Each little item on it has a story, and each one evokes many deep and wonderful memories — such as, for example, a pub coaster I took as a memento from the Rose and Crown Pub at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., one evening in 1989 when I was there with friends.
Would the cleaner-uppers just bin these things? Or would they be put in a shoebox to be sold as trinket-junk in a charity shop?
What about our art and painting collection? These would of course bring money into the pocket of whoever finds them, so they’d most likely be taken (or disappear) quickly.
As would our valuable porcelain, Wedgewood, crystal glassware, antique plate and stamp collections.
Who would clean out our cupboards?
What would happen to our CD and rather valuable old vinyl disc collections?
And to my computers and all our data and stuff stored on them?
I offered my sheet music collection, together with a lifetime’s worth of hymn harmonizations that I did for my own use as a church musician, to one of our town’s young church organists and he merely thumbed his nose at it. Sadly, such is how what we do and have gathered over a lifetime often seems to be viewed by younger people.
What will happen to our cars? Will they just stand gathering dust in the garage waiting to be auctioned off, or will they be stolen/recycled?
I have already dumped the relics and mementos of my past career — certificates and diplomas, letters of appreciation, employment records, and so on. None of these have any further value to me and would certainly hold even less value for anyone else.
What becomes of our legacy?
When all is said and done, did what I achieved professionally really make any great difference to anything?
The company where I worked for 24 years was taken over by another predatory company with no apparent regard for anything any of us had done or achieved during our careers there. It was all meaningless, in the end, except for the relationships we built and enjoyed there, and what we contributed on a personal level to one another’s lives and well-being.
I have binned many boxes and albums of old photos — some of those photos of people in places I can no longer even remember.
What lies ahead for us now?
Increasing social, family and religious isolation?
Increasing inability to care for ourselves where we are, together with increasing financial inadequacy to move to any other viable caring facility?
Increasing dependence on other people’s kindness and compassion?
And with it all, an increasing and over-arching decline in our self-worth and dignity as human beings?
Youth, through an elder’s eye
Over and over, together with what I have written above, I’ve asked myself the following questions about growing older, and sadly I really can’t find any answers.
- Why is it that we indulge babies, but when older people do similar things (dribble their food, wet themselves or worse) people get annoyed with us?
- Why is it that when older folk, who have a bank-vault of experience to share with younger folk, offer help or advice we are either ignored or pushed aside and told to shut up?
- Why is it that people shout at us as if we’re imbeciles because our hearing is no longer as acute as it used to be?
- Why are older folk in wheelchairs treated as if they are imbeciles?
- Why do some supermarket cashiers impatiently count our small change for us? And why do they treat us like nuisances when we’re slow in unpacking our trolleys? Or when we query a price?
- Why is it that younger folk titter when we make mistakes, sometimes even openly mocking us?
- Why is it okay for us to bankroll younger members of the family (it even being expected of us by many of them) but not to be invited to or included in their celebrations?
- Or to be remembered for our birthdays and special days?
There are doubtless many more questions and thoughts like the above that will still dog my mind and spirit as I continue along this “turn, turn, turn” path, but the above verbalizes (and perhaps also summaries) my thoughts and concerns for now.
My thoughts drift over to our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQI community and become the why of this essay. Who are we talking to? With whom are we making plans? What is being done by our folks to answer these questions? Maybe nothing, but maybe this will get people to thinking seriously about the end.
When all is said and done, I really have no concrete or satisfying answers, but I resonate with the wise King Solomon in Ecclesiastes (1:2): “Everything is so meaningless.”
As I approach my end, all that seems to matter will be for where, and how, have I prepared myself to transition to the next phase/place. And whether what I leave behind will be a meaningful legacy to someone, somehow.
My hope is that when I arrive “there,” I will discover that once again I have value, dignity, a role to play and a contribution to make.
Lord, why are people important to you?
Why do you even notice us?
Our life is like a puff of air.
It is like a passing shadow.
(Psalm 144:3-4 ERV)
A translator by profession, Dave Reid lives in a rural town in a wine-producing area of the Western Cape, South Africa, where he retired with his partner in 2003 after living in Cape Town. A lifelong amateur church musician and organist, he spent most of his corporate career in leadership development and change management consulting.