I’m just back from my native land, where I laid my 90 year-old stepfather to rest. He had spent the final month of his life in a residential home that specializes in the care of the dementia from which he had come to suffer. It was an excellent place – The Hollies, in Southborough, England – where the staff treated him and every other resident with dignity, and showed that they cared for them and about them all.

The experience of finding the place, and then visiting it, got me thinking, among other things, about the way the very old are treated in literature, on those few occasions they are allowed across its hallowed portals. All too often, it seems to me, they are treated with condescension and sentimentality. Rarely do you find an attempt to get inside their heads, particularly if they are suffering from dementia. That’s hardly surprising, perhaps, since people with dementia are not in a position to explain themselves clearly, let alone write about their experience and feelings. This opacity is touched upon in a rare acknowledgement of it in a book I read recently: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, so kudos to him, and even more to Delinda McCann for a more thorough treatment in Power and Circumstance. As an author, I’m as guilty as anyone else: the only really old person in my writing is the retired spook Franco Tira in Murder by Suicide, but he is a negative character, and no more demented than he had been in his prime.


To counterbalance this, I’m thinking of writing a tale about a very old person with superpowers, ones that will be put to no good use. That way I can satirise our attitudes both towards the “paranormal” and towards old age. I shan’t give the powers to Franco Tira, for he is too bad to begin with, but I might give them to a fellow inmate in the hospice, perhaps someone whom the overbearing Franco tries to bully, only to get his come-uppance. I’d welcome suggestions for superpowers with which to endow “Superoldie” and how he might deploy them in slightly mean ways that we can nevertheless sympathise with. Personally, now that I’m old enough to get taken advantage of by shop-keepers and market stall-holders, I’d like the power to make the coins or notes I hand over to them burn the fingers of the ones who short-change me. Is that too mean?


Bryan Murphy is a British writer who lives in Italy. He is perhaps best known for his Sean Linehan series [] which looks at the topical issue of corruption in international sport, as well as racism, redemption and how to survive being kidnapped.

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9 thoughts on “Superoldie

  1. Kenneth Weene

    There is a new Israeli film, The Farewell Party, which I highly recommend. As for an aged superhero, I wonder if (s)he will remember what to do and where to go or will it become somewhat slapstick as they get older. This from me, a well-advanced senior. Of course, my secret power is writing and I do a great job of minding other people’s business.

  2. Patricia Dusenbury

    Please accept my condolences on the death of your step-father. And my sympathy, because watching someone travel the dementia road is hard. I became responsible for my Aunt, when she was no longer able to care for herself. It was difficult and harder on her than anyone , but there were shining moments, too. Even after her dementia became so advanced that she had no idea who she was, a spark of the kind woman she had been remained.

    I write mysteries and in my second book, Secrets, Lies & Homicide, the one character who could answer all the questions cannot because he suffers from senile dementia. I’d never thought about it before, but I’m sure my aunt inspired this. There was so much she knew and could no longer share.

    As a senior citizen and as a reader, I hope you write that super(old)man book – and find the humor in aging, because it is there – as is humanity.

  3. John B. Rosenman

    Bryan, please accept my condolences as well on the death of your stepfather. You have provided a great service in calling attention to the negative and condescending way we often treat the very old. Ellison wrote Invisible Man about black people, and the same often applies to those who are senile. They are invisible. As for superpowers for your superoldie, perhaps have him tell the offender that he is going to make him invisible for an hour and explain why he is doing it. Ask him after how HE liked it. Or give him a case of incontinence or the trots, a common affliction of the aged. I like your burning coins or notes idea; I’m just trying to think of a nasty superpower you can use for every occasion when the old person is mistreated.

  4. stuart

    I like the idea of the oldie with mean superpowers.

    His dementia could be used to time travel back to the times he can remember and cause mischief in his past or save his younger self from getting a caning by knowing what was coming.

    With weak bladder problems he could use that to his advantage when putting thepolice off the scent of a major crime.

    The possiblities are endless. I’d like to read it when done.

  5. Ellen Buikema

    Bryan, as a child through the teen years I watched my grandmother, always a powerful force, lose herself to dementia. It was awful. I feel for you.

    If I had dementia and could have a super power, it would be the ability to enter the dreams of others and live part of my life in those dreamscapes.

    Best of good fortune to you and yours.

  6. Dellani Oakes

    I like the idea of a Superoldie. I’m young by Florida retirement standards, but old compared to my kids. Oh well. I think a fun super power would be the ability to always get to the available parking place first. The younger people drive right past it without seeing it. OR no matter how fast they drive, I get there first, able to swing into it through them, if necessary. I like the idea of the coins on those who short change you, maybe not burning, but discoloration that doesn’t wear off for a day.

  7. Susan Cronk

    Bryan, my condolences on the loss of your stepfather. I have a 102-yr-old great aunt I am, in part responsible for, so I know what it is to be part of the life of someone who has reached such an advanced age. While my great aunt’s mind is still very sharp, her aging body does sometimes cause her problems, aggravation, and dismay. I consider it a privilege to get to spend time with her now and I have interviewed her several times about her life, and recently finished the final draft of a novel about her life, both tragic and remarkable. If I were to gift a superpower to someone of such an advanced age, it would be the ability to move back through time to relive their happiest moments and to set right any wrongs they have seen done to others, or to take those risks they regret not taking. Good luck with your next book.

  8. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    Bryan, I enjoyed this piece. Too many youth and not-so-young forget that the casing may age, but that doesn’t translate to the strength of the mind.
    My condolences to you on your step-father’s passing.


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