This morning I woke up early ~ a little after 6:00 ~ in the dark ~ after a restless night ~ stretched out in the bed my husband had already vacated ~ registered that yes, this is still my life and Josh is still gone ~ and rolled over to wonder about the process of aging.
To imagine myself twenty years from now, nearly 80.Who will I be, where will I live, and by whom will I be surrounded?
I have my ideal, of course: I will be creakier, but not much, and living in a small cottage by a large body of water. My husband is likely to be living as well, given the longevity of the men in his family and his own remarkably good health. In this ideal world of mine, our children will live nearby and their own children will be sunny adolescents who adore their grandma. Whatever future sorrows lurk in the next two decades will have manifested themselves. I can only hope for the resilience, dignity and wit of the Countess Dowager.
Dream on, girl.
What if I am, in fact, enduring a multitude of limitations of every kind? What if, God help me, like my own grandmother, I lose most of my ability to see and hear, to follow a conversation and to respond with the appropriate degree of dryness? What if I can neither read nor listen to books? What if I am confined to a small room with a linoleum floor, a curtain between my bed and my neighbor's as my sole remnant of privacy, and nothing but a small common garden to serve as a reminder of the great and wild outdoors?
I am pondering all these questions in large part because I spend so much time with older people. Yesterday's post was but a list; each item thereon frames at least a dozen stories.
I am pondering all these questions because others are, too; Diane Roth and Vinita Wright, in particular.
I am pondering all these questions because a friend and her siblings have just had to move their 90-year-old mother to nursing care ~ a most difficult experience all around ~ and because I am trying to convince my father, a decade younger, to make some decisions now about the future.
More on all of the above coming up.
Meanwhile, a story:
I stop by a nursing home to visit an elderly gentleman at the request of his neighbor, one of my parishoners. He is delightful. He is from Cleveland and his name, and this is the truth, is Ignatius ~ Iggy. I ask whether he went to St. Ignatius High School ~ he might have been in the same class with my spiritual director emeritus. He tells me no; that he went to Benedictine. "I guess I'll forgive you!" I laugh.
I visit him a few more times. He is longing to get home; although his house seems terribly empty since the death of his wife a few years ago, he wants desperately to see his magnolia tree in bloom. The spring weather is unseasonably hot and the magnolias are already out; I don't think he's going to make it.
I see him for a last time in the ICU. He has gone downhill fast and is being moved north, to the Clinic. I give my number to his son; my church and Iggy's most recent residences are far from my home, but the Clinic is only a few minutes away.
I don't hear from them. When I return to my church a few days later, I learn that he died in Cleveland. He will be buried by a priest I never met.
I don't have sentimental ideas about the next life. I'm not sure that I have any ideas at all.
But I am hoping for a cascade of magnolia blossoms for Iggy.