I’m sitting here in Mom’s assisted living apartment, watching her sleep. I’ve been doing this a lot lately. She’s 91 and very well cared-for here. She also knows what phase of life she’s in. She recently confided to me that dying of old age is very hard. Yet another thing about which my mom is right.
Selfishly and honestly, my 58-year-old body and spirit is wondering how I’ll handle being where Mom is now. I have a feeling – a fear – I won’t do as well. How silly is that? Who thinks about that? I do. And maybe you do, too.
When Norman Lear was recently asked what he’d tell others who wanted to be as vibrant and productive as he is at (now) 94. He replied, “I think the two least considered small words in the English language may be ‘over‘ and ‘next‘. When something is over, [it’s] over. We’re onto next.” He said the “over and next” philosophy allows him to stay present and focused. “I live in that moment,” Lear said. “I mean this is it — this is the best conversation I could possibly be having, and it took me 93 years to get here.”
So for this moment I’m going to live in Learland. NEXT!
8 thoughts on “Learland or Fearland?”
Oh, so identify. Since I am closing in on 70, and my Mom is 92, there’s a LOT less distance between us, and a lot less opportunity for denial. Indeed a very young (19?) CNA at Mom’s memory care asked me one day “is she your sister?” Sometimes, when I awake at night with a fierce leg cramp or foot spasm and get out of bed to take a few steps in the hope of getting it to stop, I wonder what it will be like when I can’t just get up and take those few steps–I see my feet curled over into knotted balls like little Chinese bound feet and worry about the unresolvable pain to come. And so many other things.
But it is not here yet. I have moved through so many stages with Mom as she has gone into the twilight zone. Her personality is still fully there, but her sense of time and place are severely impaired. I have learned that whatever my aging (if I live so long) will be like, it won’t be anything like what I expected and dreaded, nor will it be anything like what my kids expect and dread for me or themselves.
Boredom and loneliness are not as severe for Mom as I feared. She is adrift on a sea of non-time, and says that her days pass very quickly. She cannot believe that she has been in North Carolina for more than three years. Each time she encounters her great-grandson, Noah, she must be reintroduced, because she does not recall him as anything more than a barely-walking one year old, and now he is a voluble almost four. When I visit, she wants to know ‘what have you done with the children’–my boys of 41 and 38.
Yet when we talk about things that belong in the sixty-year old past, we can laugh and cry about the same things. Her sense of humor is as sharp as the Dowager Duchess Violet’s. Her two or three years of flame-throwing meanness, however, have melted away, and she is always glad to see me and grateful for my visits (even though most of the rest of the time she appears to believe her roommate is me: “Penny is right here” is what she says to those – even me – who call her on the phone).
I no longer wonder how long this can last. I just plan on Mom lasting somehow for the rest of my life or until some totally unexpected little glitch — a virus, an infection, a fall — tips the delicate balance for a once-sturdy 150 pound body that is still ticking along at only 101 pounds. (Will extreme old age be my chance to reach my ‘goal weight’!?) When her next comes, that will be my next also.
Meanwhile, I have my wits about me, my skills still at my fingers’ ends, and only more or less severe aches and pains to deter me. I plan to make my quilts and sewing art until I can’t any more. I plan to visit with my friends and family as much as possible. I plan to keep doing my duty by Mom and living my life the best way I can. There’s no telling whether I will ever be an old, old lady like my Mother. The only thing I can tell at the latter end of a varied and checkered life is that there WILL be change I can’t plan or prepare for. I will just have to live it when it comes.
Penny, deep and humble thanks for your generous honesty and willINGness. i SO remember our conversation just before your mom moved to NC and, of course the many since then. it’s a sacred road we and many others trav l. may these moments of clarity and thin-nss between Over and Next be lived to the fullest.
Lisa, I have just happened on your blog. I love this post (which looks to be a year old), and Penny’s story as well. I care for my 100-year-old mother and write a blog about it (www.daughteronduty.wordpress.com), and am going to repeat your Lear quote in this week’s post. (I may also quote Penny’s last two sentences.) I will link you. Mostly, though, I want to follow you. I don’t see a home page or a follow button. Can you help? Blessings heaped upon you for your inspiring words. Is your mother still living?
I misread the date on Penny’s reply. Duh. Not a year old.
Hey! I just found the menu. Ack. I’m a follower now.
YAY! i am also following you and your sacred journey. deep and humble THANKS for weaving us together. i send you AND YOURS all that is good.
Thank you! I look forward to sharing journeys with you.