You are a fierce warrior. You have stood up straight and strong for all of your nine decades of life.
You are powerful. You were the first warrior woman I ever knew. You stood up for yourself when the Catholic Church told you to stay quiet and obedient. You stood with your hands on your hips when the schools told you to send your girls out into the snow wearing skirts.
You have never backed down, even when the idea of standing up made your hands shake.
You are a tired warrior now. I think that you have fought all of your battles, and I think that you have nothing left to prove.
You have raised a troop of healthy, happy children. You have watched your grandchildren grow and thrive and multiply.
I think that your journey is complete.
In my loving daughter’s heart, I think that you have earned your turn to rest.
I stand outside tonight, under the Hunter’s Moon. I breathe in the crisp scent of the dying year. The gentle exhalation of the oak leaves, the wet smooth smell of the soil, the bitter scent of fallen seeds. I pull them into myself. I hold my breath.
I think of you.
I think of how fiercely you are holding on to this life.
I wish that I could tell you that your work here is done. You have earned your gentle rest. You have been a loving wife, a supportive mother, a loyal friend. You have done enough. You have been both good and worthy.
“Please go gentle into that good night,
Old age should sigh and smile at close of day;
Embrace, embrace the dying of the light.
And you, my mother, there on the proud height,
Bless, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
My mother is 91 years old. She is still happily living in the house she and my Dad bought in 1962.
She is dealing with dementia, some small health issues and increasing frailty.
But she is safe at home. In her chair, on her porch, surrounded by the walls that held our family of 8 for so many years.
In many ways she is incredibly lucky. I think that many people of her generation have always planned to “age in place”. To live and die in their one beloved home.
I understand that urge. I understand my Mom’s attachment to this place, to her anchor, to her best memories.
But as I make may way through this house, the place where I was raised and from which I launched my own life, I am swept with sadness.
I see images of my 5 siblings gathered around the kitchen table. I remember our arguments, our jokes, our little annoyances and our small joys. I see my Dad, so happy and proud, grinning at Mom as she served dinner to the brood.
My heart hurts.
And I wonder.
Is it really the best thing to stay in place until the end?
I ask this question as I find myself moving through my own house today. The house that my husband and I bought 31 years ago. The house where we raised our own three children into adulthood. A house, a home, filled with so many memories.
I love it here. I look out into my garden and remember that when we moved in here, there were no gardens. I am the one who planted the day lilies, the forsythia, the coreopsis and coneflower and phlox and lilac.
Walking around this yard fills my heart with memories. And it makes me sad.
I walk by the backyard, now filled with blueberry bushes. I remember walking here with my baby boy, the first year that I ever planted my own tomatoes. That little guy, nearly a year old, loved to pick a fresh, warm tomato and bite into it as he stood there barefoot in the grass. I can still see him.
He turned 31 years old today, and I struggle to let go of the image of his golden haired smiling baby self.
I move around to the side of the house, remembering my baby child, my last born. I can see him throwing a baseball against the wall. I can hear myself yelling at him, complaining that he and his friends were cracking the siding.
I remember pets that are long gone.
I remember a sweet, tender, heartbreaking little boy from next door and I remember his shocking death at the tender age of 25.
So many sweet things happened here.
When I walk our dogs around the block, there are ghosts all around me. Ghosts of Halloweens past and birthday parties and giant storms. Ghosts of neighbors long gone, and children now grown.
Ghosts of young adults falling in love, and the tears that came with those experiences. Shadows of lessons learned and echoes of lessons lost.
Now my house is also filled with the memories of my grandchildren, who have spent so many days here in my care as their parents have gone to work. Another layer of ghosts pulling at my aging heart.
And I am beginning to wonder if I really want to “age in place.”
Paul and I have friends who have managed this part of life with more grace. Some have moved to new and excited places where they are creating their “next phase” lives on islands and in exotic foreign lands.
I watch them packing up their middle aged lives and moving on with joy.
And I am envious, and a little jealous and aware of the fact that if I had it to do over again, I would have sold this nice little house right after our children left it. I would have moved to a new place, to start a new life, to find my next steps.
For me, the idea of “aging in place” has lost a lot of its charms and now feels like an anchor that is holding me down.
A few years ago I noticed that a lot of my friends were wearing big, rubber-encased watches. I saw those friends gazing at their watches as we strolled through various gardens and along a few beaches.
“This is a Fitbit!” one friend told me. “It measures my steps, keeps track of my heart rate, counts calories and reminds me to drink more water!”
As a confirmed non-athlete, I was unimpressed.
Fast forward several years, however, and I found myself the slightly abashed owner of my own pink Fitbit. Covid was raging, and as a good Italian woman, I had spent several weeks trying to cook my way out of danger. I was, shall we say, getting chubby. Or to quote my adorable three-year-old grandson, I was “nice and squishy.”
So I got a Fitbit. I vowed to slim down. I promised to count my steps.
If you are even a little bit aware of current fitness ideas, you will know that a “fit” person is supposed to take a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. With a Fitbit on one’s wrist, one can carefully plan where to walk in order to reach the magic number.
At first, the very idea of walking so much seemed out of reach. I mean, really? I live in a small house, how many steps could there be in the average day of an average old lady?
It seemed somewhat out of reach, I’ll be honest. I thought I’d have to go “hiking” in order to reach the magic number. My young, healthy sons told me about how they had to plan extra walks to make it that far. In the middle of the worst lock-down days, one of them even made a video of himself walking around and around in his own apartment, book in hand, just to get the last couple of hundred steps.
I thought that hitting 10,000 steps would be a major stretch for my aging, squishy self.
But, guess what?
I underestimated the physical benefits of being old. I did not anticipate the wonderful impact of a wicked bad memory.
As it turns out, people my age take a whole boatload of extra steps every day.
I’ll give you an example.
This morning, with my Fitbit on my wrist, I walked from the bedroom to the kitchen. I turned on the coffee pot, then realized that I had left my phone in my room. Back to the bedroom, where I noticed that my bed wasn’t made. Took care of that, went back to the kitchen for coffee. Remembered the phone again. Back to the bedroom. Decided to do laundry, so I grabbed the hamper and headed downstairs to the laundry room. Back to the kitchen, where I poured the coffee and sat down to sip.
And I realized that I still didn’t have my phone. Back to the bedroom.
You get the idea, right? I took around 500 extra steps, just trying to grab my phone.
In the course of a single day, a nice mature person like myself might go into the bedroom five or six extra times. We might go all the way into the garage to take a chicken out of the freezer, then come back upstairs after leaving said chicken on top of the dryer. And down we go again.
It is actually way easier for older people like me to hit 10,000 steps than it is for our 20 something kids to get that far.
I might still be “squishy”, but you better believe I am getting way, way, WAY more than 10,000 steps a day just going through my day.
For the fifth or sixth year in a row, my deck has become a haven for baby birds. We have had a phoebe nest under there for many years, her nursery built higher and higher each spring until this year I wonder how Mama manages to fit in under the boards.
This year, like last year, we also have a family of tiny robins who have hatched under the deck. Every morning when I pull up my bedroom shades, I see a couple of adult birds with mouths full of worms and beetles, standing along our fence and ready to fly to the kids with breakfast.
When I walk softly and carefully around to the back of the house, and peer up at the spiky little nests, I am filled with a sense of awe as I watch the impossibly tiny beaks opening and closing as they wait for the meal that they trust will be coming.
I love this time of year. I love the reminder that no matter what is happening in this deeply troubled human world, nature goes on and on. The robins don’t question the wisdom of reproduction; they simply follow their instincts. They sing, they mate, they nurture and they live.
I wish I had the same faith.
For humans like me, life seems to come in stages. At one moment we are the babies, dependent and faithful, secure in our nests and happy to wait for someone to feed us. In the next, we are expected to spread out inexperienced wings so that we can take to the sky and start our own journeys.
For birds, I imagine, this is a relatively simple process. They are born, they fledge, they find a mate and make a nest and repeat the process until death comes to take them off for a rest.
It isn’t so simple for us, though, is it?
I am at one of those “milestone” ages in the life of a human. The US government has decided that I have reached the level of “old human.” They have provided me with Medicare to take care of my expected old human ailments. My children are all grown up, with partners and nests and babies both planned and newly birthed.
If I were a bird, I’d be settled and secure and happy to perch on the fence. I’d be ready to let the seasons change and to die when my time came along.
Alas. I’m not a bird.
I’m only a human.
And I find myself perched on the edge of a new stage of life that leaves me both afraid and sad.
You see, unlike birds, we humans are filled with a sense of devotion to our parents that leaves us hopelessly tied to our pasts. It leaves us filled with dread and poignant sorrow as we watch our parents age into the next phase. It leaves us unprepared and insecure as we make the decisions that will shape the final days of those who have given us life.
We are not ready to make these choices. Nothing has prepared us for the need to feed and clothe and house our parents. Nothing has taught us how to bathe them and clean them and reassure them when they are confused.
The life of a human does not contain lessons on how to stop relying on the woman who advised us and supported us through our own long journeys into parenthood. It doesn’t set us up for the moment when we must admit to ourselves and to the world that our parent is no longer the one who holds the answers. It doesn’t show us how to embrace and support the generation before us even as we do our best to support the generations that have come after us.
I look up every morning at those tiny robin babies. I know that in only a week or so, they’ll be perched on the edge of that carefully crafted nest. I know that they will pull up those shaky wings and spread them toward the sky.
They’ll take a deep breath, I think, but they’ll know what to do.
They will fly.
I wish I could do the same. I wish I could find some kind of old-woman wings that would lift me gently over the deeply painful decision of where my Mom will spend the last days of her long life. I wish I knew how to fly out of this childhood nest, and how to fulfill my responsibilities as a human being to the one who gave me this life.
I stand on the edge of this next phase of life. But I am far too afraid to fly.
So here’s the thing. We moved into this house 31 years ago this month. Back then, this was a reasonably nice 5 year old house with a cheaply made interior. The kitchen was basic, functional, not particularly beautiful. The countertops were laminate, the cabinets made of particleboard. There were plastic “lazy susan” shelves in both corners.
It was way better than the run down apartments we’d rented before, and more up to date than the kitchen in the one decent house we’d lived in earlier.
We had finally had our first child, and were awaiting our second. We had finally, finally, finally finished graduate school and scraped up enough money for a downpayment. We bought this house in a relatively rural small New England town.
At the time, I fell in love with all of it. I fell in love with the fact that this soil, these trees, this average American house, was all OURS.
To embrace an overused cliche, we definitely set down our roots here.
We have lived in this house long enough now to have replaced the floors, updated the paint, renovated the bathrooms and tamed the yard. We’ve turned the cellar into a cozy playroom. We’ve raised three kids here. We take care of our three grandkids here.
It’s a nice house.
Except that the kitchen has gone from basic to disgusting. The cabinets are filthy and uncleanable. One shelf is actually held up by a book. The laminate counters are cracked, peeling, burned, dirty and faded.
Don’t even get me started on the floor.
Or the 35 year old kitchen light that was cheap when it was bought way back when.
At long last, after having saved for years, our kitchen is about to be totally renovated. New floors, new sink, new lights, brand new paint job. Brand new white, shiny cabinets and drawers and a specially designed spice cabinet just for my giant spice collection!
Finally, after more than four decades of marriage, I am about to have a trendy, fashionable kitchen with white tile backsplash, brushed nickel appliances and even a special slide out drawer for trash and recycling.
This is a life changer for me!
So you would imagine me dancing the happy dance all around, wouldn’t you?
Well. I am dancing. A lot.
I have danced my way through pulling apart every drawer, every shelf, every cabinet in my kitchen. I have danced through donating a dozen boxes of “what the hell is this” and I have danced through weeks of reorganizing junk drawers and plastic storage items.
But now everything is empty.
And now my inner sappy-soft-hearted-ridiculous old woman is breaking through.
Last night my long suffering husband found himself faced with a wife who was finally getting her one big wish. A brand new kitchen! And that wife was sobbing and moaning, in spite of the updates ahead.
“Oh, honey,” I sobbed to poor Paul. “There are so many memories in this old kitchen!”
“This was the corner where our baby girl sat and played ‘LightBrite’ on the day we passed papers on this house!” Our Kate was only four, and the house was cold and empty. But we signed the contracts and we came here and set her up at a little table to play as we looked through our new house. On that cold April day, that kitchen looked like the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.
“Remember when we had the little picnic table here?”, I asked as I wiped my nose. “I can see our three kids here having lunch.” One of my favorite pictures of them was taken in this spot, at that funny plastic table. I could close my eyes and picture the neighbor kids here, too. Chrissy and her brother Nick, grinning with my kids. And sweet Alex, our dear Alex, who died far too soon. This corner was where they laughed and snacked and argued and grew. And were I watched over them as they did it all.
Paul wasn’t sure what was making me so weepy, but when I turned to the cracked plastic of the spinning corner cabinet, he understood.
These two words, written in Sharpie on our old shelf, brought both of us back to the days when our kids were young.
I could remember the night when I wrote those words. The kids were just old enough to come home from school by themselves, and to spend two hours at home before I got here. One day I came home with groceries and as I went to put them away, I realized that most of what I had bought the week before to provide lunches and snacks for school had been eaten by the home-without-Mom crowd.
So after complaining and griping at the kids, I put the food into the cabinet and wrote the words on the shelf. “School food!!!!!” was strictly off limits to the crew. It became a source of argument, negotiation and many jokes for the next several years.
I had forgotten all about it until the moment when I was emptying everything out for our renovation.
And I was suddenly pulled back to all the meals, all the birthday cakes, all the brunches, all the holidays, all the batches of virus busting soups of the past three decades.
And I cried. A lot.
Tomorrow these old, busted, broken, dirty cabinets will be torn out and tossed into the dumpster. The floor will come up and the appliances will be moved. In a couple of weeks, I’ll step into the kitchen of my dreams.
I’ll be happy. I’ll be delighted!
But I will always be a little bit nostalgic for the crappy old place where I cooked a million meals for the people I love so much.
My mother was beautiful. She was elegant and stylish. She always looked immaculately put together and ready for anything.
She was a wonderful cook, and was able to keep 6 kids and our Dad happy, well fed, and healthy on a very tight budget.
Mom was an artist, and could paint and draw in ways that left me amazed.
As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, I grew up very much in awe of my Mother. She was fiercely opinionated, always outspoken and she never backed down from a conflict. I remember her as the champion of young girls in town when one historically snowy winter had her contacting the principal of the local Junior High School to demand that her daughters be allowed to wear pants to school. “I will send my daughters in skirts when all the boys have to walk to school with bare legs, too.”
She was my hero.
By the time I was old enough to understand the concept of time, I wanted to grow up to be exactly like my Mother. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be artistic. I yearned to know how to cook and I was determined to become a mother myself.
So much of my life has seen me happily copying my Mom. So much of it has seen me wanting to echo her strength and her resilience.
But something has changed in the past few years, and it has shown me that my mother can still teach me lessons even as I reach the age of Medicare.
Mom is 91 years old now. She has overcome cancer, pneumonia and even Covid 19. She still lives in the house where she raised all of us, where she cared for our Dad through several illnesses, and where she watched as he died.
Most of her children are still around her, still sharing meals in that same kitchen, still watching TV in that same room.
Along with my brothers and sisters, I try to take my turn visiting Mom, and doing what little I can to help take care of her. She has a lovely woman living there as her Home Health Aide. She watches TV, and naps in her favorite chair, with her sweet little kitty on her lap.
I come to visit, bringing home made soup or a pasta dish. We chat and smile and watch a bit of TV.
Then I get back into my car and head home. And I think, for the first time in all of my long life, “Please, universe, please don’t let me be just like my Mom. I don’t want to live as long as she has.” Please don’t let me follow in her footsteps as she gets to the end of her path.
I love this life. I have had a wonderful, joyful, hilarious time on this funny planet. I am in no real hurry to leave.
But please, dear Universe and gods and goddesses and fates, please don’t let me live so long that I am unable to cook my own dinner. Please don’t let me live to be a woman who can no longer sing, or swim in the ocean, or pick my own herbs, or write a blog post, or read a good story. Please don’t hang onto me so long that my children worry over who will weed my garden and who will wash my hair.
Life is a sacred gift. Each of us has our turn on center stage. Life is a fabulous blessing.
I am eternally grateful for the life I have been given.
Please let me squeeze lots more laughter out of it. But please, please, send me on to the next big adventure before I am unable to remember the pleasures that came with this one.
I love spring. I really do. I love the smell of wet earth and the sight of the first few robins. I love Easter, and stale Peeps and the first time we roll out the grill and make some burgers.
But I’m realizing that there are certain parts of the spring ritual that are not really designed for the elderly. Especially the elderly like me who have the kind of memory issues that make us forget the arthritis in our spines and the nerve issues in our necks.
Today was a beautiful day out here in North Central Massachusetts. It’s been a pretty dry and pretty warm March. My crocuses are open and the daffodils and tulips are poking their heads up through the straw that I put over them last November.
Today was the first day of this year when the leaves piled on my gardens were thawed enough to rake. It was the first day when the soil was unfrozen, so that I could scrape back the mud and find the emerging shoots.
This was the first day of the miraculous rebirth that comes around every year. Hurrah! Time to get out there, old Nonni! Grab that rake, sweep up all those mouldering old leaves! Find the thyme plant and the phlox and the yellowish tips of the sprouting tulips!
So out I went, with my grandkids in tow. Five year old Ellie grabbed her child’s rake. Three year old Johnny grabbed a trowel. Almost one year old Max sat happily in the grass, but it was obvious that he wanted to taste some sticks and dirt.
With one eye on the baby and one on the barely surviving stems of my two year old hazelnut trees, I started to rake. And I raked, baby, oh did I ever rake. I sang songs to keep Max distracted while I raked every old leaf off the newest flower bed. I gave simple directions to Ellie and Johnny, who were simultaneously raking, arguing and pretending to be superheroes.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it felt fabulous to work hard in the springtime air.
Until it didn’t.
One of the funny/not funny parts of getting older is the way my body can alert me at the exact moment when it has had enough. Like a tornado siren on a summer night, it suddenly shrieks out of nowhere, shocking me into the reality that these old bones are no longer thirty. Every tiny nerve ending reacts simultaneously, which means every muscle seizes up and every joint freezes.
I went from Happy Farmer to Sobbing Zombie in about three seconds.
OWWWWWW!!! My thumb was screaming. A blister! And all the skin came off!!!!
YOWWWWW!!!! My lower back was shooting lightning down both legs and I was bent over at a ninety degree angle. I wanted to drop the rake, but my right hand was cramped into a claw.
Why was my calf cramping? And who applied a vise to my achilles tendon?
I took a breath. And wheezed.
Turned my head to look at the kids. My neck cramped.
The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. Step, ouch! Bend, ouch! Lift 25 pound baby, ouch ouchie mcouchums!!!!
I convinced the “big kids” to come inside with the promise of a cookie. Do. Not. Judge.
I am very happy to report that today is a rainy day.
There is no reason for Nonni to drag herself out there and scoop up the mountains of moldy leaves. Today is a day for the heating pad, the ice pack and the play pen.
Spring is a time of wonder and joy. It is flowers and baby birds and rainbows.
It’s also a time to check the mirror and look at the wrinkles before getting carried away in the garden.
Paul and I took a couple of days off this week. Well, truthfully, he took a couple of days off. Since the onset of the Covid disaster, I have mostly had my days free. But he’s been working as a therapist in a time of universal angst, and he was very tired.
We decided to take a couple of days and travel up into the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire, to the National Forest Campground where Paul and his family have spent vacations since the 1920s.
While Paul grew up with a love of these mountains, and a passion of camping at their feet, I came to that life in my late teens. Truthfully, I had never camped in my life until I decided that this very cute guy was worth the bugs, the rain, the cold nights and the burned food.
Needless to say, I learned to camp. In fact, I learned to camp at Dolly Copp Campground in the White Mountain National Forest. I learned to pitch a tent. And to cook outside. And to bathe my little ones in a rubber bucket. I learned to lock up the food so the bears wouldn’t get it. And to wash my hair in a bucket of water warmed over the camp stove.
And the years went by. My kids love camping, and hiking. They love Dolly Copp Campground so much. Our extended family has a reunion up there every year. That campground is where I felt the movement of my first baby in my womb. It is where that same baby went into early labor and was rushed off the hospital to have her own daughter, with me at her side. Dolly Copp campground is where my boys learned to fish, and where they learned the sorrow that came with killing another being in order to eat.
We swam in the river that runs through the campground. We made s’more. We sang around the fires. Our little family has so many, many good memories of that place.
And Paul and I went there to camp last night. Only one night, but it was filled with memories and peace and laughter.
This morning, very early, I found myself in the campground’s bathroom. An updated, modern, clean version of the little spaces where I’d dressed my kids so many times.
I looked into the mirror, and I saw my 64 year old self. Not the hopeful, eager young 19 year old girl who first followed her future mate to this place, but the gray, wrinkled, slightly wilted version of that girl.
“I’m 64.” I said out loud. “How did this happen?”
I expected to feel sad, but you know what? Something beautiful happened.
As I stood there, looking at my aging self, I heard a sudden unexpected voice answering my question.
“It happened because for the past 40 plus years, you’ve been busy.
In that time,” the voice told me, “You’ve graduated from college, learned what you wanted to do with you life, achieved a Master’s degree and embarked on a rich and rewarding career.”
I looked back at the image in the mirror, remembering every misstep and every failed moment.
But the voice from my heart continued, “You’ve learned how to teach. And you’ve been a teacher. You have touched the lives of many many children, in ways that you won’t ever know. You have reassured parents, encouraged kids, supported them on their journeys. The years passed because you were busy. You were growing and you were doing good.”
I thought of the kids I’ve loved and taught over the years. The kids who are my Facebook friends, my real life friends, my warmest memories. “OK”, I thought, “I get it.”
But the voice wasn’t done.
“And you’ve raised three kids. Three adults who are healthy and joyful and loving.”
I looked back at my face in the mirror. I saw a mother. A teacher. A sister, a friend, a wife, a daughter.
I saw a life well lived.
“OK”, I said, nodding to my own old self, “OK. I’m 64 years old, and it isn’t a surprise. How did I get here? I got here on my own winding but worthwhile path.”
Really, what more could any of us ask of this life?
My family is enormously lucky because we live in a place that is green, and beautiful. Our house is surrounded by trees.
We’ve been in this house for 30 years. That seems so hard to believe. My husband Paul and I raised our three kids here. We’ve had two cats and five dogs at different times in this house.
Parts of the yard have been, at various times over the years, a baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a vegetable garden, a flower bed, a strawberry patch and a place to put the swings.
Now the kids are all grown up and on their own, and it’s time for us to start looking forward. In another ten or so years, we plan to sell this house and move someplace with less upkeep. It’s time.
With that thought in mind, we’re hiring someone to help clean up this huge yard and make things look neater and less overgrown. I have mixed feelings about it, isn’t that weird?
I walk around and I look at what is now a big rock buried in raspberry and blackberry vines. I remember thirty years ago, when that was the site of my first little garden. I planted “hens and chicks” and other succulents, thinking it would be a rock garden. I didn’t anticipate the encroachment of the woods. It didn’t occur to me that Mother Nature had her own plans.
The arborist is going to take down a tall, slender oak tree near our driveway. It is competing with other trees for sunlight and is now leaning toward our deck. It shades an entire section of lawn. Everything will look more open, more sunny, when it is gone.
But I remember one warm summer morning when that oak was about my height. I laid on the grass with our new puppy in my arms and looked at the sky through its leaves. That puppy is long gone now, crossed over the rainbow bridge in his old age. I look at that oak tree, and I remember his soft ears and his puppy smell. I don’t really want the tree to go. But it’s time.
There is a little grove of baby white pines that need to be taken out, too. They stand together, like a little family that has silently stepped out of the forest and into our yard. They silently watch the grass where my kids used to play “desert land.” They need to come down, but I will miss them.
I can count the passage of our family’s years by looking at the tree stumps that now stand in the yard. There’s the stump of a tree that once held a toddler’s swing. There is the stump of a pine that used to guard a squirrel nest.
Time passes, and we know we are aging. My mirror and my bones tell me that!
But I forget sometimes that this house and this yard are aging, too. It will be good to have it cleaned up, and to have the woods retreat back to where they belong.
Still, there is a little piece of me that wishes for something else. Perhaps it would be magic, I think, if we simply moved away and let the forest gently and slowly enfold the house where our children grew up. Let her cover it up and keep it safe, like a tender memory that can only be revisited in dreams.
I find myself standing on the bridge between the past and the future, and it is a tender and poignant place to be.
I stand between youth and old age.
At the age of 63, it is of course natural for me to find myself in the middle of life’s journey.
But for me, the juxtaposition of what has been and what is coming is feeling profound right now.
My mother is 89 years old. She is 26 years older than I am.
Mom still lives at home, in the house where she and our Dad raised six kids. She is still there, still in her kitchen, where I learned to make sauce and meatballs. Still sleeping in the bedroom where she and Dad slept from 1962 until 2008 when Dad died.
I go to see her once a week. My siblings go at least once a week, too. Some more often. We are Mom’s supports, her cooks, her money managers, her cheerleaders as she heads on down the path toward her next step.
As my very wise sister put it, “Mom is quietly folding her tent.” She is gently withdrawing from her life, seeing fewer and fewer friends as her memory and her body fade.
But she is happy. Perhaps happier and calmer than at any other time in my life. Mom, once a power woman in control of all around her, has learned to accept help with grace. She has been willing to wear her LifeAlert, to have a home health aide and to welcome one of us every day (although she doesn’t often remember whose turn it is on any given day to have dinner with her.)
Mom is showing me how to exit gracefully, just as Dad did when it was his turn.
I am watching her. I am learning. I am coming to terms with some thoughts of my own about my life going forward toward that “rainbow bridge.” I am so lucky to have a model of how to go with humor and humility.
As I stand on this tender bridge, I look back toward my youngest child. My son Tim turned 27 yesterday. So you can see that I am almost the ‘median’ point between my mother and my son.
I look at him, my sweet, kind boy. I see that life is spread out before him like a banquet. He plans to marry his sweetheart next summer. They are thinking about children, about careers, about their hopes and dreams for a future family.
I see him, and I see his Dad at the same age. I see myself. I see our worries and our joys and I remember what it was like to be young, in love, ready to move into the future with courage and hope.
My Mother often talks to me about those years before she married my Dad. She talks about how happy they were to sit under the trees on Boston Common, planning how many children they’d have. She talks about what it was like to hold his hand as they walked through the city sharing their dreams of a beautiful future.
And I stand on the bridge. I hear her thoughts, and I hear Tim’s. I know that it was my Mom and Dad’s ability to dream and love that lead to my family, and lead to my marriage and then lead to my beautiful boy and his wonderful partner.
I know that Tim and Sweens will marry, have children, face challenges, encounter unexpected joys and find ways to keep recreating their hope. Just as Paul and I have done. Just as my Mom and Dad did for all those years.
And I know that one day it will be me who is facing that final chapter.
I just hope, and pray, that when that time comes my children will look to me as a model of how to move on. I hope that they will think about Grandma, and remark on how like her I am.
And I hope, and I pray, that when that day rolls by, there will be children of theirs who are busy falling in love and planning their next steps and thinking about babies of their own.