People die. We grieve. We mourn. The ache lingers. We dissolve ourselves in the routines of life, and still the ache stabs us. Some little thought, a photograph, a song, a place, a flower, a car, a book, a smell, a taste, a sound, a flash of light through the trees plunges a rapier through our calm demeanor and our quotidian routine. We crumble into despair.
When we lose a friend or a family member, we lose pieces of ourselves. What died with them was a part of us, and that part is taken away. Our collective memory loses its fullness. Without others' memories to help keep alive our own, we lose whole parts of ourselves, for it is experience and memory that makes us what we are — social, sentient beings reliant on others to keep our memories straight.
The pain of aging is in losing, one by one, those who have been a part of your life for decades. First parents and aunts and uncles, then your own generation, cousins and siblings, and contemporaries, friends from childhood or later. Each of them carries away knowledge of you in the form of memories, some of them many decades old. With each death, we are a little less of what we had been. We are left an incomplete version of living, a flawed recollection that cannot be supplemented or ignited ever again.
If the elderly seem thinner, more fragile, or slower, it may be because they have seen too many memories buried, too many pieces of themselves cremated. They become an abridged version, a redacted life.