Accepting the reality of old age in a global pandemic

Cartoon. Joyful woman saying "Yay! I'm 80!" on 24 February. A coronovirus above. Same woman on 24 March thinking, "Oh. I'm 80."

In a short month, my age (80, in case I haven’t told you that 1,000 times already) has gone from being a matter of delight to something rather disconcerting. The reality of old age in a global pandemic has sunk in, ahead of any major age-related changes.

I’m not scared for myself, but I’m hyper-aware of my responsibility to stay home as much as possible. Ruefully I acknowledge that yes, I’m over 70, which by definition means I’m vulnerable, regardless of my health and fitness. My lung capacity is normal for my age—in other words, way below that for a healthy 40-year-old. That’s not a worry but it is a fact, not an opinion.

“Age is just a number,” 999 people say merrily every day. It is indeed a number. We age at vastly differing rates but age is still a number. And that number is not open to personal interpretation.

Old age in COVID-19 has new implications. I stop seeing myself as purely individual and accept that I’m part of a cohort of people over 70. Is it true that when we are old or almost old, we might be rather quick to switch from a personal denial to a sense of community? Maybe I have run my course, maybe it’s a reasonable time for me to die*—but if there’s one thing I can do right now, it’s to protect others as far as possible, by simply staying home.

This isn’t all about me. I have children and grandchildren and my dear little city and my beloved country to consider.

In an earthquake I can imagine myself actively helping others in my neighbourhood. In a global pandemic, I have to accept help. It’s very strange. (It’s also a foretaste of being very old.)

Only 2 weeks ago I was saying, WOMAD hasn’t been cancelled, it’s in the open air, therefore it’s OK to go. Things have changed since then and so have I. Call me conservative: I can take it.

*Relax, I really really don’t think this is gonna get me: that’s not my point.


31 thoughts on “Accepting the reality of old age in a global pandemic

  1. Sadje says:

    Yes, this new disease has changed our perspective. But I hope not for ever.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The disease won’t last forever but I’m hoping I will learn something from it.

      1. Sadje says:

        That’s true. I hope we all learn something good from this crisis

  2. joliesattic says:

    lol. I get it. I’m 73 and one of my husband’s friends wife thought I was 55 but knows I’m older, but not sure how much. She’s 52. My daughter’s age. I was flattered, but like you I’m in good health, although with no visits to the gym right now, I’m noticing aches from sitting or I should say with less activity. Keeping fit is what has kept me vital, so now I got to kick it up a notch and work out here at home.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So there you go! A new habit is on the horizon.

  3. gifted50 says:

    You look great, And you are wise… smile. Continue to stay safe.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you for your kind words. They matter, don’t they?

      1. gifted50 says:

        Yes they do, You really look great, I would have never guessed.

  4. People seemed to enjoy telling me I’m in the at-risk category. I thought I might get some benefit, but we’re rocking along as usual. Can’t complain!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      “As usual” is perfect. What bliss. Rock on!

  5. cedar51 says:

    I’m in Level 2 situation as well, but not because of being over 70 (i’m nearly there) but because of my other health issues…so yes I’m home bound for now.

    I found out after I returned from a walkabout on Saturday – when I went into the mall, pit-stop and bought a milkshake and then went into somewhere and bought a small box of hot wedges. That is now completely off my list…and all walks will have to be within cooee of home for a pit-stop. I had also been supporting a 5 day week cafe, a mom/pop with family sort – I didn’t really need a cake, but I bought one…

    I’m home alone and my neighbour hood isn’t really friendly. I don’t have a car, and the other unit here in the ROW is untenanted, someone will move in come Friday – he looked about late 40s. I have friends who will help but I’m a creature of habit with quibbles and it’s hard for me to “ask for help”

    Yesterday, I thought … I’m trapped (fleeting as turned out) – see I order my groceries online but often something doesn’t come “out of stock” and then I just pick it up on a trip away from unit. I thought I’ve got enough now, but what happens now with restrictions on quantity. And that dreaded “out of stock”.

    So I’ve ordered some readymade meals that come once a week on a Sunday – that will top up some of “making” and will mean if the dreaded “out of stock” surfaces I know someone made me a meal which is either in my fridge or in the freezer…I know there are other ways to get say fresh veg/fruit but for now, I’m going to take my time getting in stuff…

    Have enough food to see me through…but it’s my “sanity” and “trapped” feeling that is taking a bit of a battering…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m impressed with your quick solution to the problem of supplies. I’m glad your friends want to help, so when you do ask for help they will be pleased. You’ll be doing them a favour.

      1. cedar51 says:

        another pal, who had forgotten that although I wasn’t 70, I had fragility health issues – just offered her “son” if need be.
        I’m finding like today, the young man who gets up between 5-6am daily has their bathroom light on (house on other side of fence, 3 x infill houses) hasn’t…he’s obviously not working in essential services, so I immediately thought “it’s the weekend, and he doesn’t do that…” 🙂 pretty fast I’m going to be lost on which day it is!!!

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Yes, establishing a weekly routine is going to help.

  6. I understand so much of what you say, Rachel! This time has been humbling. I write about elderhood so positively and mostly live it that way as well. But the solitude which I so cherish has become quite another thing now that it is forced upon me and not simply chosen as a way of life. Change creates disturbance, I’ve remarked, having made my way through many in my nearly 79 years. But now that this huge change has arisen, I find myself surprised that the disturbance is indeed also here. I’m getting my bearings, but there is much to unfold yet. What opportunities are already showing up that will make the waiting time rich with insight, and which ones will make a difference to a future in which I will probably spend relatively less time? I’m working on being fascinated rather than overwhelmed.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I love your approach. I am on a parallel path here, I think. Well equipped but surprised by momentary thoughts. And hoping for growth, long term.

  7. Stay safe, sweet lady. Love this.❤❤❤

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That makes me happy.

  8. myrak says:

    Sing a song a day……loud and out……I hope the more somber 80 year old thoughts pass soon….you continue as a great inspiration…Love Myra

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Fabulous old song although no way am I falling apart. 🙃 Quite right, need to sing! Tonight it’s ukulele. Getting sick of you are my sunshine so I’ll hunt for a ukulele version of this treasure xx

  9. Even being a bit under 70, that’s how to feels. Everyone rallying to offer support, which is truly apprecitaed, but I thought I had another 20 years before that would be necessary!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Interesting ay? It’s not personal, that’s what we need to remember. It’s our job.

  10. Cathy Cade says:

    No ifs or buts. I turned 70 last December (I know, ‘cos I had to renew my driving licence) so it means me too. Hubby is in several ‘at risk’ categories though, so I would have to be careful anyway.
    Am currently ordering shopping online two weeks in advance (that’s the nearest delivery slot) but it’s time I emptied that packed fridge of bargain buys I never got around to eating.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What an opportunity. You just reminded me of something in my freezer…

  11. agoldmind says:


  12. anne leueen says:

    I have been thinking about the same things. I am 70 and I am in denail about being old. The term elderly does not apply to me I have said. But this virus has chipped away a bit at my bravado. However I am not capitulating yet! Stay safe and healthy my friend.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Anne. 70 is a fine age and a true fact. And I’m expecting to wobble a bit in the coming weeks. We should, really, because it’s all so weird. But capitulate? Na. Not gonna happen.

  13. srbottch says:

    I agree. We always said, ‘I may be over 70 but I feel like 40’. Now, not so much. Especially when we’re constantly reminded that we ‘in that group’. My wife broke her wrist recently, followed by surgery, and that has put an extra burden (not the right word) on me. Neighbors do our shopping. The dog pays more attention to us. So, yes, I am over 70 and feel it. But, this will end and we’ll be back stronger, and younger. 😊

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Reality itself has changed and so we must change to fit it. But you are still you.

  14. Wendy says:

    A new day, a new outlook. You’ll be back Rachel.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I never left!

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