In my travels during the month since I retired, I have been with four elderly women, ranging in age from 77 to 96, who have interesting stories. The four of them demonstrate different abilities and places which might serve as a lesson for all of us.
The youngest lies in a bed in a low-grade nursing home, unable to move. Or unwilling to move. She grew up the daughter of a migrant worker, knowing nothing but poverty. She was married at 15 to an abusive man, but she didn’t know any better. She had no skills or self-esteem or way out. Now, after a lifetime of struggle, she’s given up. Her husband is dead and her only child is dead. All that’s left is a small bulletin board of photos. She has no one, other than a friend and one sister, to care for her. She lies in her bed, waiting to die, unwilling to put the effort into keeping her muscles usable. Now she can only move one arm with effort and if someone would feed her, she would allow that arm to atrophy too. There is no hope in that room. Waiting to die leaves no room for it.
The next oldest lives at home with her husband whose health is beginning to fade. She keeps a very neat house and is the epitome of recycling. Nothing is thrown out until it is completely used up, completely broken, or one of her children throws it away and replaces it. Styrofoam plates and cups are washed and reused for many meals. The plastic lid on her crockpot is broken in two, but if you put the pieces together with a piece of foil just so, it still works. Lots of friends stop by to visit and she visits others in nursing homes. Her life is full because she puts others above herself and cares for them. She doesn’t need new things; the old is comfortable to her and she is happy with it.
The next eldest lives in an upscale assisted living facility where she is well cared for and attended to. In her small apartment, she has the last of her belongings, mostly old furniture and artwork that came from her home. Her walk-in closet is stuffed full of clothes for all seasons, although her shrinking world is climate controlled now. Two tiers of clothing on three sides of the large closet, ready for use when dinnertime comes around and the occasional trip outside. Some of the clothing items are years and years old, but they are with her to keep her company, like old friends. Reading, knitting, crossword puzzles keep her busy. She’s happy there, seeing friends at lunch and friends who still drop by.
The eldest woman lives in an old home behind her stepson’s house in the country. She is a hoarder. Not a trashy hoarder with piles of garbage to walk on, but a hoarder of her life’s memories. She is an avid reader and books are stacked in neat piles on nearly every horizontal surface. There is a poster used in her 90th birthday celebration and a pile of certificates of appreciation for all her volunteer work. Her chair is clear and the ancient sofa is clear, except for the old pillows needed to comfortably sit there. Her desk with her computer and the large comfortable office chair is mostly clear because she loves to work on the computer. It is ordered chaos because she knows where everything is. It brings her comfort, to be surrounded by a lifetime of achievements.
Four women. Each has a different story. Each finds comfort in different things. Just like all of us. What brings you comfort? At the end, what do you want around you? Your life is your story. Don’t be afraid to tell it.