Surviving Old Age Part I: Too Many Moving Parts

7 Feb

Selfie (also known as self portrait) of Robert Birnbaum


“I ain’t dead yet, my bell still rings…” Early Roman Kings-Bob Dylan

One begins to suspect that one has gained entrance to a new universe when health providers and insurers begin one’s examinations inquiring if “…you have fallen  down recently”. And that jarring inquiry is followed, at some point, with instructions to remember three words which you would shortly be asked to recall . Excepting, of course, serious illness or injury— to which everyone is susceptible, the great malady for which one is unprepared but inevitably encounters, is Old Age. Symptoms of this affliction—hearing the sobriquet ‘old geezer’ or  alte kaker regularly: running the obfuscating gauntlet of  (so-called) health insurance providers: a world, that in the name of efficiency, has made it difficult to communicate with a living person  (as opposed to a messaging labyrinth or a live chat )when encountering the quotidian vexations and infelicities of life.
The self-help industry and its cash cow adjunct, self-help publishing, are at the ready to offer all manner of solutions and strategies for your ‘issues’  . To which, if you are susceptible,  you will infinitely regress a  into a mind numbing labyrinth of buzz words , jargon and imperatives from a variety of self identifying gurus . Personally, I have never thought to avail myself  of books categorized as self help.    Among the  books (in addition to well crafted fiction) I have found helpful in the  resolutions of life’s problems are is writing that comes from different cultures.—like Lakota shaman, Black Elk’s Black Elk Speaks , or the  wisdom of the Dalai Llama or yogi B.K.S. Iyengar..
There is an issue that one may confront earlier in life but almost always presents with seniors. That is, the inordinate amount of stuff that accumulates as we wend our way through life,  finally , for  some of us hitting a critical mass 0f unsustainability.
 Chris Lehmann* opines
There is, it seems, a raging crisis of careless acquisition and chaotic storage afoot in the land, even eight years into the austerity-addled “recovery” from the economic calamity of 2008 and in the wake of a generation’s worth of wage stagnation and steadily worsening inequalities of wealth and income. More precisely, there’s a movement afoot to orient us more serenely and mindfully (as the present mass-therapeutic term of art would have it) amid our storehouses of stuff—to coax forth a Platonic balance between the things we love and the streamlined, clean, and open domestic spaces we crave. They call it decluttering, and true to its unassuming-yet-officious name, it has quietly set up shop everywhere.
And so came,


As a reportedly international  best seller, you can read about this book and its campaign for DECLUTTERING everywhere. As this is an issue that I am  currently struggling with after a lifetime of curating and acquisition and thoughtless consumption and despite my lack of regard for self- help books  (especially ones that offered life changing magic) I dipped into this small tome. Which I quickly put down as 1) “cheerfully ruthless”  Marie Kondo Conde’s tone was not one that I found I could take advice or  instruction from and 2) the first step recommended was to do this declutter all at once…well, good luck with that…


The most recent entry to dealing with the storage/clutter problem comes from Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson, who describes herself as being between 80 and 100. That’s a nice age…


 Publisher’s note (annotated)

In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, artist Margareta Magnusson, with Scandinavian humor and wisdom, instructs readers to embrace minimalism. Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming.

Magnusson writes.

“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you,  Not all things from you.”

“Save your favorite dildo — but throw away the other 15! There’s no sense in saving things that will shock or upset your family after you are gone.”

Margareta suggests which possessions you can easily get rid of (unworn clothes, unwanted presents, more plates than you’d ever use) and which you might want to keep (photographs, love letters, a few of your children’s art projects). Digging into her late husband’s tool shed, and her own secret drawer of vices, Margareta introduces an element of fun to a potentially daunting task. Along the way readers get a glimpse into her life in Sweden, and also become more comfortable with the idea of letting go.

Dwight Garner **observes

 I jettison advice books after I’ve flipped through them. This one I will keep. I’m a sucker for a good title. Though I’m not old enough to begin my own death cleaning, I am glad to have the phrase. I plan to let my children know they’re in for a big day of cleaning the apartment when I summon them for a (cue the reverb) “death clean.”

See that My Grave is Kept Clean

Well, there’s one kind-a favor I’ll ask of you
Well, there’s one kind-a favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one kind favor I’ll ask of you
You can see that my grave is kept clean

And there’s two white horses following me
And there’s two white horses following me
I got two white horses following me
Waiting on my burying ground

Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Means another poor boy is underground

Did you ever hear them church bells tone?
Have you ever hear that church bells tone?
Did you ever hear them church bells tone?
Means another poor boy is dead and gone

And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
Now I believe what the Bible told

There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
And there’s one last favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean

Next Pt II of Surviving Old Age : Death Be not Proud




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2 Responses to “Surviving Old Age Part I: Too Many Moving Parts”

  1. normanlevy February 7, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

    Gabby Hayes lives!

    Norman Levy 16 Koch Road Norwich Vermont 05055


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