For as long as I can remember I've dreaded getting old.
It's not so much the wrinkles and grey hairs that frighten me. I think I can handle losing my "beauty," or at least I'm determined to accept it gracefully.
It's not a fear of death either, because I am so very confident in my beliefs of what's on the other side of that wispy dark veil.
What my fear of being old is really about is being infirm, being a burden, and having my mind slip away.
I know I'm not alone in my fears, at the very least they were shared by one of my Grandmothers, who committed suicide when I was a pre-teen. My mother supposes it was because Grandma was losing her independence and couldn't face a future of her body gradually failing her, a little at a time.
I'm sure that others join me in fearing the loss of mental capacity, Alzheimer’s or other "dementia" disorders are a daunting prospect. A future like that, perhaps languishing for year after year in a care facility, or lashing out during a spell at one of the people we love most, is terribly frightening.
However, I’ve had the fortune recently to have a learned a little about this subject from a woman in my area. I’ve never met her, but I work for her daughter.
My manager, K, is one of the most genuinely pleasant people you will ever meet. Sometimes I have been suspicious of people who smile all the time, like they were hiding a darker side under that perma-smile, but K isn’t at all like that. I honestly believe that K just decided to be a happy and lovely person, and she does it very well. She’s an inspiration to me.
One day though, she seemed to have misplaced her smile, her eyes bore the shadows of pain and exhaustion, and though I barely knew her I walked up and gave her a hug, she seemed to need one. It was then I learned that her mother, F, has a brain tumor, an inoperable one that by all medical calendars should have quieted her pulse long ago. K is the driving force of F’s emotional support system, while raising two great kids, being active in church and community, and excelling at her demanding career.
K is my hero, needless to say, and I’ve added her to the list of people I worry about (while driving or cleaning or enjoying a relatively quiet moment at work.) I wonder at how she holds up in such a circumstance, how she even puts one foot in front of the other much less goes about doing so much good.
Then I realized this morning as I was reflecting (while driving, of course) on the relationship between the aged and their children, that K’s mother’s condition isn’t anywhere near as much of a burden as it is a blessing to her daughter and general acquaintance. In these, the last vestiges of her mortal life, she is giving her final gifts.
To her daughter, she gives the opportunity of service, and the chance to see beyond her mother’s activities and really see her mother. She has learned in these last years the person her mother is, something so many of us may never know.
To her husband she gives a fond farewell, a chance to really demonstrate in these final years the love that he has nurtured for her all along.
To her friends she also gives an opportunity to serve, that precious chance to step outside themselves and care for another. They are also blessed with a valuable reminder that life is short, and love is too important to be suppressed in favor of the mediocre daily pursuits of our lives.
Lastly, to this particular complete stranger she unknowingly bestows a gift of wisdom and peace. As I scurry throughout my life, striving to serve my friends and family while I am still able, I shall remember F. Perhaps I will get old, after all. Perhaps I will lose control of my limbs and eyes. Perhaps I will not remember things as clearly, or perhaps I will eventually become so disconnected from the world around me that my children will see a hollow shell where their mother once was. I just pray, that in that day they will have learned the lesson that God finally got through to me. People age so that the younger learn that part of us will never die. Age is the very evidence of the immortality of the soul.
Thank you F, you are my hero.
Happy Mother's Day.