Tuesday, August 28, 2012

the meaning of old

Writing from my mother's room at the "retirement residence" - which was called in my youth an old folk's home - as she sleeps before dinner. She slept after breakfast and again after lunch, did not have the strength to go to dinner without another sleep. I went to Mountain Equipment Coop while she slept this afternoon - it's just down the block - and bought her a fleece jacket. It's Polartec, designed for bitter cold, and though we are in the month of August, she has not taken it off. She's always cold.

It's brutal, this journey into aging. On top of her physical and mental struggles, just to survive - oh the state of her legs - my mother cannot accept that she will never cook again. She has cut a recipe from a Martha Stewart magazine, and wants us to make it. But there's no stove here, I say. Let's just go to the dining room.
It's expensive, she exclaims. And I've bought fresh corn. I love fresh corn.
Perhaps I'll try to wrestle her back to her condo tomorrow, and cook corn, and eat a homemade lunch. I hope this will set her mind at rest.

But we have met wonderfully heartening souls here - two Audreys, one at dinner last night, an artist, a mere 86, newly widowed and newly arrived here, still trying to figure out how this place works, and another today at lunch, a remarkably feisty and cheerful old woman whose macular degeneration appeared last year, she said, as she was driving home, and in 20 minutes she was nearly blind. Eventually her son moved her from Windsor, where she lived, to Ottawa, where he does, and she began her new life at Amica. "A new chapter," she said confidently, squeezing my mother's arm.
"If I may ask, Audrey," I said, "how old are you?"
"I don't tell people usually," she said. "I'm 97."
97, nearly blind, a new town and residence and chapter. I want to be like Audrey when I grow up.

How will we age, we boomers? I was in the elevator at 4.30 today and nearly got trampled by walkers, because that's when dinner begins. 4.30. I just can't see my cohort aging in the same way - but when the time comes, will we have a choice? Today for Mum, just staying awake is a battle. And yet yesterday, at the Van Gogh exhibition, she, a painter herself, was marvelling at colour and brushstrokes and beauty.

I can tell you one thing: ca brise le coeur. It's heartbreaking.


  1. La vieillesse est un naufrage, said Charles de Gaulle. Old age is a shipwreck, or, the slow sinking of a ship.

    The most important thing for your mother now is that she's comfortable and cared for.

    Bon courage.

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  3. It's true, Juliet, my mother has had a fantastic life and is being very well cared for in her old age. The Audrey we met who at 97 was talking about a "new chapter" in her life was really inspiring. I keep thinking of a family friend, Muriel Duckworth, whose hundredth birthday I attended - she was still lively, still interested in others and in social justice. Let's pray for mental and physical health till the end.