Yes it’s been awhile, shall we sit and have tea and catch up?
How are you? How is your summer so far? And your family?
Me? I’m doing pretty well and yes I had a good birthday. 43 has been a breeze so far. We returned recently from visiting my grandmother in Ohio last week. She turned 94! She is still so sharp and her memory astounds me. We worked the crossword in the newspaper together everyday I was there, I loved that.
Seeing her moved something in me, and I wish I could say it was all sweet and nostalgic, but it wasn’t. With the visit came an uncomfortable glimpse into the future none want to ponder too long– the reality of life in old age, of loss in body and independence, of wisdom gained, yes, but not without a few footprints of sadness and regret. Seeing her made me think about the life I wanted to have, or even more important, the outlook on life I wanted to have, if I were to ever make it to 94.
We talked a lot together Grandma and me. She mostly talked of the past, what happened to who and when. When she talked about my dad or my grandfather, my ears prickled with interest to the things I never knew about them. Like when my dad went to sleepaway camp when he was 12, and though he wanted to come home after two days, Grandma said “try one more day” and in the end he was so glad he stayed. She talked about taking the train to Chicago in 1944 to visit my grandfather after he finished boot camp, how the train was so crowded that people had to sit on their suitcases in the aisles.
We visited the lake house she lived in nearly her entire life, the lake house her father built, the lake house that my parents, brother and I would visit on the weekends for family bbqs, fishing, and firefly catching. Though she no longer owns the house, she checked on all the flowers she and her sister had planted, the clematis, the peonies, and the irises, as if they were still hers. She found them to be somewhat neglected, but still alive and carrying on. We later found an empty bird’s nest on the ground underneath an oak tree she had planted years ago, and in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel the congruity of it all.
I know it’s cliché but I do feel like a child again when I am around her. She is always teaching me, recounting what it was like growing up in the Depression, the war, battling 3 cancers (and winning), losing loved ones like a husband and son, and what it’s like growing old. She is patient with my questions fielding them the same way she did when I was 10 years old, assuaging my curiosity and forever being my teacher.
I do believe the one precious gift we can give our older generation, the thing that helps make the life they’ve lived and ultimately their life in old age worth it all, is the opportunity and time to share their stories, their truths. And in return what we receive is a gentle, quiet hope that aging is something we can do, can manage, can accept, because it’s our own stories that will carry us through to the end.
much love to you