The old patriarch

The hospital emergency is packed. The old patriarch is lying on a bed in a corridor turned into an improvised ward. Most of the patients are elderly people like him. This winter has been harsh, very cold and now rainy and damp, and flu quickly turns into pneumonia…and then the whole bloody list of diseases that came with old age goes crazy: his diabetes, his heart condition…damn old age, he thinks and he closes his eyes and tries to remember happier times.

If you look at him, you would say that at eighty six he still has an impressive figure. Very tall, bulky but not fat, with a mass of beautiful white hair and handsome features. An engaging smile and above all an acute sense of humour that has made me laugh many times.

If it weren’t for the pain in his knee joints he would be in great shape…alas, these pains prevent him from walking more than short distances and greatly limit him in his outings. But he still drives and every morning he likes to go and have coffee at the shopping mall with a few of his friends. Not many, of course, as some of them are already gone.

Like his beloved wife of so many years, who passed away two years ago on New Year’s Day. When she went to the hospital he was lost, after all they had been together for more than sixty years – a whole lifetime of love, with its ups and downs, but what couple does not have them? Still, she was his every day companion and then he was home alone. But never for a moment did he think she would not come back…even in shock, he had to be brave and his children and grandchildren were incredibly supportive. What a beautiful family we have raised, he thinks. And loving too. His two boys and girl (now in their sixties and late fifties) organize themselves so that they come to see him every day. Because they know he is lonely, even if he says he is alright, and this loneliness is terrible at all hours of the day, but never worse than when darkness creeps in and another endless night announces itself.

And wintertime is terrible for old people. All his bones ache. He shivers in the cold because heating is so expensive and he feels he has to save money, with all the cuts brought by this terrible crisis that will never go away. Now it is so cold that he has even lost his only distraction – he and his friends have stopped going to the cafe for some time, until the weather gets warmer. After all they are all terrified of catching a cold – and look where it took me, he thinks, I caught it all the same!

When they brought him to hospital he felt bad, he thought it was the end. But now he feels better, the infection is responding to the treatment and the rest of his ailments have stabilized. His elder son has reminded him he must get better, for his little great-granddaughter – whom he hasn’t seen yet – will be arriving in the next few days. And he has a little great-grandson son too, who lives nearby. He knows he won’t see them grow up, but he feels he can still be there for them for some time; why not?

The old patriarch looks around and sees beyond the hospital misery. He thinks of his family, his dear sons, daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren…he silently whispers to his wife, now another shining star in the sky, and asks her to wait a little longer for him, because he still has much to do here on Earth. And he knows she understands.

The old patriarch turns in his bed. A feeling of peace invades him. He knows he will win this battle and return to this family who loves and cherishes him. Finally, he falls asleep. Tomorrow will be another day, and he will be there to live it.