I recently saw the movie The Father (2020) by Florian Zeller. It’s a poignant movie on the themes of aging and senility. Anthony Hopkins acts as the father who is losing memory, and along with it, a sense of what’s happening around him. To his family and us, it is abundantly clear, but the old man lives in a world of denial. What results is continuously escalating conflict, culminating in a moving climax. In this heartbreaking scene, the old father cries like a baby, and starts wailing “Mother! O Mother!” to the nurse who is caring for him. The nurse, instinctively, comforts him like a child.
Coincidentally, I read a story, The Bishop (1902), with a strikingly similar ending. This story by Anton Chekhov is on the theme of aging and death, but it also touches upon the meaninglessness of life, upon the loneliness of fame and authority. Our bishop is in the middle of his life, at the peak of his career, with everyone respecting him. Yet he is weakened by disease, is beset by a feeling of being stuck, has no pleasures of the ordinary folks such as parties or complaining. His own mother seems to talk to him only with respect, making his loneliness worse.
The story ends with our bishop lying on the deathbed, seeking his mother and caring about nothing else. As he continues to grow weak and frail, at one point, the mother loses her facade of respect and caresses him like a son. The next day, the bishop dies.
Two very human, very relatable stories.