Scott and I went to visit his 90-year-old grandmother last week. I always enjoy seeing her; sitting in her living room area and hearing what she wants to talk about. She now lives in a beautiful retirement facility, plays bridge with some of the other residents (winning quarters!) and does tons and tons of crossword puzzles every day. She has her glass of wine every evening and never – EVER – have we stopped by (even unexpectedly) that she wasn’t completely dressed with necklaces, bracelets, earrings, hose and shoes.
I find that remarkable.
She is (quite literally) fading away. She keeps getting littler and littler. She told us about how her girls had to take her wedding rings and put them in a safe because they kept slipping off her fingers. She has ‘dementia’…whatever that means. SHE WILL BE 91 NEXT MONTH! – so it seems ‘dementia’ is okay at that age! She tells very clear stories about the here and now, though. My own mother had Alzheimer’s so I look at Grandma and wonder how she has stayed so sharp for so long. She seems quite with-it to me.
The day we visited she told us about her many travels around the world. She told us that she and her husband had visited all 50 states and had been on every continent except Africa. She relayed how they financially adopted children overseas and then would take their own children (5) to go visit them so their kids could see how others lived. Grandma told about a friend of theirs that had family overseas and that they (Scott’s grandparents) used that has an “excuse” to travel – so they took their friend to meet her family in London.
Her eye contact with us, her hands as they talked along with her words, her delicately crossed ankles, her gold chain bracelets…it was easy to see her as a young wife and mother, traveling the world and finding adventures.
She stopped suddenly. Her arms went way up in the air in a very gregarious motion as she half-laughed and said,
“If I die tomorrow, I don’t care! I’ve had a good life.”
I looked away – fat, hot tears teetered on the edge of my eyelids. Not out of sadness. Not out of fear. But the fist-in-the-heart challenge to be able to come to the end of your life and be able to say, “I’ve had a good life.” The wonderful realization that you’ve done what you were meant to do. You’ve helped who you were meant to help. You’ve seen and done many things and have been wise enough to recognize it; fortunate enough to have experienced it and allowed those events to settle into your mind as gratefulness.
What a legacy.
A life story is like an impressionist painting, a riot of tiny brushstrokes when viewed up close. There is a great deal we are unable to discern about our lives while we are still caught up in the small exertions of living. Getting older allows us to step back far enough to recognize the overall shape of things, the full picture that can only be seen from the distance of an elapsed lifetime. – Wendy Lustbader, Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older
All last year the family celebrated Grandma’s “last Christmas”, “last birthday”, “last…”. I imagine the young girl inside her is laughing as they are now celebrating all those occasions AGAIN as Grandma stubbornly outsmarts death. I’m glad she has. I still have a lot to learn…
We offered to take pictures around her chair where she was sitting. “Oh no!”, she said. “I’ll stand up with you.”
As she and Scott got into position, Scott crouched down a bit to get into the picture frame better. She immediately scolded him, “No, no. Stand up! Let them see how tall you are!”
I’ll tell you what else… If I am allowed to live to be 91 years old, I’m having a bedazzled fingernail file too!
She lives in The Sweet Life Retirement Center.
At the end of life the car payments and job advancements and hardships don’t matter as much. It is the fortunate few who are able to summarize their life with a big gesture, a half-smile and to emphatically conclude, It’s all okay; I’ve had a good life.
A truly sweet life, indeed.