This past month was an emotional one at the house next door to ours. Our neighbor is 102 years old and she has lived in the home next to ours since she married about 80 or so years ago. She raised her children in the house, was a member of our neighborhood since it was established and all of the houses around hers were first built. And she soon may be leaving and it makes me sad.
Fairly healthy and involved in more social outings than I (since I became a stay-at-home parent of two little ones), we now see her about to take what appears to be a final transition. Unable to attend her weekly card games with friends and struggling to maintain her routine of attending Sunday service at her church, she has become a victim of chronic pain. I admire her adult-children, now in their 60s and 70s, for caring for her–mowing her lawn every two weeks and visiting two to three times a day for meals and other assistance. But, now they have decided it is time she leave her home. They feel her needs now require constant care and her activities would be best supervised at most times. So, they are left with some pretty arduous, emotional tasks like having her home assessed and placed on the market and finding the right kind of facility where she can live for the rest of her days. They are unsure of how much longer they will be able to hold her hand and enjoy conversation with her. The thought of this pretty much has me quite torn even now as I type this.
Becoming elderly happens. For those of us who will be so lucky. There will come a day when plantar fasciitis and arthritis plague some of us (I am turning 42 this week and have, for six months, had the luck of experiencing plantar fasciitis and despise it for being so remedy-less). Our skin will age, grey hair will no longer be a fear but a reality, and we will unfortunately experience loss on many fronts. Last year I saw my husband lose his father and my best friend said a final, dreaded good-bye to her mother. Our children grow and life changes, yet as we get pulled into our 40s, our taste in music and clothes seems to stay the same. Thoughts like “I will NEVER stop listening to Top 40 pop music” shift to “What is this garbage?! THIS is NOT music…” I can’t help but think about painter Thomas Cole’s series of paintings entitled The Voyage of Life, which were painted in the mid-1800s and illustrate the stages of life from birth to death. Aging happens and none of us are immortal.
Last month I saw an ambulance at my neighbor’s home a couple of times and last week realtors with their clipboards and pens in-hand could be seen walking around her yard. While I prepare myself for my final goodbye to her, I can’t help but wonder who our new neighbors will be and how they will settle into a house that has been hers for over half a century. Her pictures will come off the wall and her children will have some rough tasks ahead of them. I hope I can be there to comfort and assist them…that’s what good neighbors are for. And as for my neighbor’s next and final chapter of her life, I wish her well–as well as could be expected. Leaving one’s home and lifestyle cannot be easy and I imagine that many facilities where elderly go to be cared for and finish out their lives aren’t filled with much joy and happy days, which is why volunteering there is so important. Let them know they are not forgotten or any less valuable to our society as they once were.
A bit of wisdom that my neighbor shared with me a couple of years ago when I interviewed her upon turning 100 years old will forever be in my memory: Enjoy these years home with your babies. Looking back, it was those years for me that was the best time of my life. So, whenever I start to lose my cool or get cabin fever from being stuck inside with a 3-year-old and 4-year-old, I remember those words she spoke to me. A piece of my neighbor that will will be forever with me.