Death of Identity

Food for Thought

A day before I arrived in Japan, my dad sustained a severe fall requiring five stitches on his head. He’s been falling a lot this year but somehow managed to avoid a fatal one. Although he survived this one too, his ability to walk has diminished significantly, requiring a wheelchair to go outside. Now, I’m arranging a retirement home because my parents’ apartment is not accessible. During the tour, they offered us the lunch the residents were having.

I haven’t come across anyone who plans to spend their savings down to zero based on how many more years they might live. No matter how rich they are, they plan to leave their principal untouched and live frugally. I’ve always wondered why they don’t just spend it all and have fun. A common explanation is that they want to leave something to their children. I had accepted that explanation with some skepticism until I spoke to my dad about it this week. I told him that I don’t need him to leave me anything. My sister is rich and doesn’t care about inheriting any money. He was stripped of any reason to preserve his savings but couldn’t shift his thinking, still insisting on depriving himself of the pleasure he could otherwise have.

As we age, the aspects of ourselves that once defined us gradually fall away, like intelligence, looks, skills, talent, and physical strength. As our hearing and speaking abilities decline, even our charm, sense of humor, and charisma fade. What is scarier than the fading health is the fading of our identities. Money becomes the only form of power and influence that can preserve our identities. Understandably, many people don’t want to see it fade along with everything else.

But the more we cling to our identities, the harder it becomes to confront death because death doesn’t allow us to keep anything. Even if your name is preserved in history, how it’s perceived is subject to change, like the statues of historical figures now being dismantled. You no longer own who you are.

In our teens and twenties, we struggle to define our identities. Towards the end of our lives, we struggle to hold on to them. Identities are the greatest bane of our existence.