Yesterday my mother turned 92. That may seem pretty ancient until you consider the 100 year old Dodger fan who, just last week, was in the stands cheering on the team and hugging Tommy Lasorda during the seventh inning stretch.
I can easily imagine my mother making it to 100. She’d always been a very calm, happy person. Growing up I never heard her raise her voice, she just walked away from an argument. She avoided strife.
She has the most optimistic view of everything and everyone in her life. The man who knocked her up, married her but was never a husband, who lived with her briefly only so he could save up his money to buy a ticket to leave her – is still the love of her life. She doesn’t ever say a mean word about him and she doesn’t regret a moment spent with him. Wow, if falling for a man who treats you like that doesn’t get you mad, nothing will.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’ve heard horror stories about elderly people who, when they begin to realize they’ve lost memories and are losing the ability to manage, become aggressive and paranoid. My mom is just the opposite. She is a sweetheart. She laughs at her forgetfulness and seems to have not a care in the world.
They say that the key to longevity is lack of stress. That describes my mom to a tee. Now that she can’t remember anything that happened within the past fifty years, she’s even more stress free. All the anxiety of raising a child, living away from family and friends, making a go of it in a strange city – all she recalls of that is, well not much. So she fills in the blanks with fairy tales. Everyone was kind. Things always just worked out the way she wanted. The sidewalks were lined with gold and the clouds were made of cotton candy.
Even those parts of her life she remembers, the war, the rations, the bombings, the death of her brothers – she remembers through rose tinted lenses. It was all noble and everyone pulled together to help one another.
She has no regrets. She has no pity for herself. She doesn’t seem to resent that she is no longer the active person she once was. She spends all her days sitting on the couch watching TV standing only to shuffle to the bathroom or to the kitchen to make the one meal she clearly remembers – cheese, bread, butter. She doesn’t get bored with the same lunch because she has no clue that she’s been eating the same thing every day for the past six months. She can watch reruns as if they are brand new and enjoy them all over again. Each moment is a revelation.
I can’t imagine myself living the life she is living but when she was my age, I’m sure she would have felt the same way. That’s the scary part. Will I one day become like her? It makes me want to quit my job and start doing all those things I’ve been putting off. Then I wonder what is the point? Will I remember having done them? Even now I know I’ve done things because they’re on my resume or I have other concrete evidence but had I only my memory to rely on, it’s frightening how much I would already be unsure about.
I used to think the Stones were crazy when they sang “I hope I die before I get old,” but I know now what they meant. My mother doesn’t consider herself old. Other people are old. She’s not ready to die because she isn’t ready to quit this world. One day she’ll decide she’s old, I can imagine that’ll be some time after her 120th birthday. Until then, I’ll keep the refrigerator stocked with cheese, bread and butter.