Friday, January 16, 2015
Maybe it was the back-to-back visits we had with my husband's mom and my mom this past summer. Or perhaps it was the fifty cents we saved when we went to a movie two days before my husband's 55th birthday, and the woman at the ticket desk gave him an early birthday present: the senior citizen's discount. Or maybe it's just the way I hobble around when I first get up after sitting for a while. Whatever the reason, lately I've been pondering what it's like to be old and how to get there gracefully. I've always been the kind of person who thinks about and tries to imagine what the next stage in life will be like and how I will fit into it. I used to daydream about going to college, getting married, and having kids. I paid attention to the lives of people a little farther down the path than I was and looked for tips on what I should do, how I should act, and what I should remember. So these days I've been watching Steve's mom and my mom for clues about the stage in life that my husband and I are just beginning to teeter on the edge of. I've watched them cope with losing their husbands and living alone. I've seen them give up riding their bikes, taking walks when the sidewalks are snowy, and having holiday celebrations in their homes. I've wondered what it must feel like, after all those years of feeding your family and hosting dinner parties, to lose your ability (but not your desire) to make a meal for company or even for yourself. When Steve's mom was eighty-nine, she decided to move into an assisted living facility in Williamsburg. She gave up her car, her life in Fredonia, and much of her independence for the security and peace of mind that come with knowing she has built-in help if she needs it. At eighty-two, my mom still drives (around town) and still lives in her own home. Although she may change her mind in the future, she recently told a friend she has no plans to move until she goes to heaven. Yet despite these differences in our moms' living situations, the borders of each their lives have shrunk. For many years, your life expands. You learn to crawl, then walk, then drive; you move from your playpen to your yard to your neighborhood, and finally out into the great big world. Then somewhere along the way, almost imperceptibly at first, life starts to get smaller again. At first it's kind of a relief not to have somewhere to be or something to do every single minute; you're glad to ease up on the accelerator a bit; you welcome the little pockets of rest that come your way. But then, before you know it, you have hardly anywhere to go, almost nothing to do, and way too much time on your hands. And you start to feel lonely and . . . old. There's not really much you can do about it except try to make the best of your little world, and both of our moms have done that. They stay involved in the lives of their children and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren), they spend time with friends, they enjoy simple pleasures, they keep learning, and they keep living. And whether they realize it or not, they're still doing what good parents have always done: smoothing the path and shining a light so their children can find their way.