Family Lessons 36: Extreme Old Age

My 5x great-grandfather, John Simpson, died aged 99. This is quite a good age by today’s standards, but in 1872, it was impressive enough to warrant a brief newspaper article. The Carlisle Patriot of 26 July duly noted:

DEATH AT AN EXTREME OLD AGE. As will be seen by a reference to our obituary column, a man named John Simpson, died at Charlotte Street, in this city, the other day, at the remarkably old age of 99; and had he lived a couple of months longer he would have attained his 100th year. At the time of his death Simpson had only one of his children surviving, a daughter, about 60 years of age, with whom he has resided for many years.

His sixty-year-old daughter would have been considered fairly old back then, and the picture of her caring for her aged papa is rather lovely. The report also hints at some of the sorrows of a ripe age: the outliving of one’s children and the inevitable loneliness of being without one’s peers. Born in 1773, while America was still British, he lived through the Napoleonic wars, the industrial revolution and the development of Britain’s empire. Although the times were interesting, I suspect they made the loneliness of senescence no less painful. Old age in this fallen world is almost as great a curse as a life cut short. Solomon’s advice to the young anticipates dotage, and is a text I often read at funerals:

Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,

Before the difficult days come,

And the years draw near when you say,

“I have no pleasure in them”:

2 While the sun and the light,

The moon and the stars,

Are not darkened,

And the clouds do not return after the rain;

3 In the day when the keepers of the house tremble,

And the strong men bow down;

When the grinders cease because they are few,

And those that look through the windows grow dim;

4 When the doors are shut in the streets,

And the sound of grinding is low;

When one rises up at the sound of a bird,

And all the daughters of music are brought low.

5 Also they are afraid of height,

And of terrors in the way;

When the almond tree blossoms,

The grasshopper is a burden,

And desire fails.

For man goes to his eternal home,

And the mourners go about the streets.

6 Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,

Or the golden bowl is broken,

Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,

Or the wheel broken at the well.

7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,

And the spirit will return to God who gave it.

-Ecclesiastes 12:1-7, NKJV.

Grandfather Simpson had time enough to ponder his eternal state, but was he wise enough to take the opportunity of getting right with his Maker, before his silver cord was loosed and his golden bowl broken?

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay