9 Stories About Aging and Illness

You Don't Know What You've Got Till It's Gone

Though aging and illness may not be the most uplifting topics to think about, they nevertheless represent some of life's greatest mysteries. Not surprisingly, then, they are frequently a topic in literary works, as authors -- like the rest of us -- struggle to make sense of them.

The following nine stories offer different perspectives on aging, illness, and, above all, the value of life.

Older couple walking on path.
Image courtesy of Helena.

This story tells of Fiona, who's losing her memory, and Grant, her husband of 45 years, who takes ethically questionable steps to ensure her happiness. Is he making a loving sacrifice for her? Or is he merely indulging in all the faults he's cultivated over the years? More »

Frozen pond.
Image courtesy of Otto Phokus.

Don Eber, terminally ill and losing his mental abilities, determines to walk into the freezing wilderness to end his life and spare his family unnecessary suffering. After all, losing his wonderful stepfather to a long illness is one of the worst memories of his life. But things don't go quite as Don has planned. More »

Antique silver brush and mirror.
Image courtesy of ~Pawsitive~N_Candie.

In the privacy of their bedroom, a husband and wife grouse about their grown children who are visiting. At first, these two may seem like nothing but incorrigible curmudgeons. But the story gradually reveals their own frailty and their profound dependence on each other. More »

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'My Life Is a Joke' by Sheila Heti

Chicken.
Image courtesy of Paul Joseph.

In 'My Life Is a Joke,' a woman who committed suicide comes back from the dead to give what is, more or less, a TED talk. She tries to find redemption in having turned herself into the proverbial chicken-who-crossed-the-road; too afraid of life, she chose to step in front of a car. You decide whether her argument holds water.

Bride and groom smiling under umbrellas.
Image courtesy of John Hope.

In MacKillop's story, a mother narrates all the milestones of life for her terminally ill child, who will never get to experience them firsthand. The story takes place during the mother's description of the child's wedding day. The mother could choose to make it the sunniest, most beautiful day ever, but instead she conjures up a rain storm. Why? More »

The old Natchez Trace.
The old Natchez Trace. Image courtesy of Natalie Maynor.

In this story, aging and illness manifest themselves separately. A child is ill and his healthy but aged grandmother must care for him. The story follows the grandmother as she makes her usual strenuous journey to get the medicine her grandson needs. Though obstacles befall her, nothing can deter her from accomplishing her goal. More »

Despondent bride sitting on steps.
Image courtesy of Cary Bass-Duschenes.

On Granny Weatherall's deathbed, her memories begin to run together, and she focuses on a humiliating moment earlier in her life when she was jilted at the altar. In life, her grown daughter is treating her like a child. But will death be worse? Will heaven receive her, or will Christ leave her standing at the altar alone again? More »

Metal spiral.
Image courtesy of brian.

This work of electronic literature examines the complex misunderstandings between a grandfather who's losing his hearing, the noisy grandchildren whom he loves but who rattle his nerves, and the well-intentioned daughter who tries to mediate. Don't forget to turn your volume on! More »

Rocks under water.
Image courtesy of Benjamin Dobson.

'Kilifi Creek' features neither aging nor illness, but mortality haunts its every line. If life is a long parade of near-death experiences, eventually one will succeed. More »

The Inevitable

While aging may present itself differently for different people, and while illness might affect some of us drastically and others not at all, the questions they raise about mortality and the meaning of life apply to everyone.