Visiting my aging parents brings a myriad of emotions, thoughts and reflections. I reminisce with them of funny stories, vacations taken and camping trips soaked in rain. There are the stories they can’t seem to recall, the ones they will never forget and the tales that grow over time with each retelling. I observe their habits, how they manage thru the daily routine and try to get a sense of what life is like when it’s just the two of them at home alone. When I slip away from the lunch table and busy myself in another room they forget that I am there. It is then that their conversation ranges from the mundane of the weather, the escapades of the squirrel’s routine visit to the yard (they’ve claimed him as their own and named him Speedy) and sometimes even a glimpse of their warm conversation with one another that displays a shared life of 58 years and the love and deep concern they have for one another. This is the moment that I cherish and know that their love does run deep and strong, in spite of the rhetoric, bickering and “show” that is displayed for us, their children. it is then that I begin to ponder my own path that I am carving out as I travel down that road of age and decline.
Several years ago as I thought back over my parents aging process I could see some very definitive choices they made. In their 50’s and 60’s they were mobile, traveling, engaged and still expanding their world. But somewhere along the way as they approached 70 and beyond they began to “circle the wagons” as I used to call it. Their world became smaller and smaller, less travel, the adventurous spirit was gone, no new friendships, and they became disengaged with the world and their contributions to it. And I would say even their contributions to family, grandchildren. The circling of the wagons was to keep out change, vulnerability and danger. To protect themselves from uncertainty, dangers and calamity. As I watched their lives over the last ten – 12 years now I have seen their health decline, their mobility lessen, nothing uncommon as we age into our 80’s. But what about me.
I was just past 50 when I started to reflect on all this. And I could often be heard saying, “I’ve got 20 good years left, maybe. What am I going to do with it”. Some of my friends thought I had a death wish. Some thought I was being presumptuous. But as I explained, if my life and health went as my parents had, then I have until about 70 to be active and healthy, if I get that long. No guarantees. So what did I want to do with my 20 good years, where I was engaged, involved, contributing, expanding my life? I never wrote it down, but I made a mental list.
- Say yes as often as I could to opportunities. Even if they were scary, I’d never done it before or it was unfamiliar. Say yes and try.
- Make new friends. I wanted to keep expanding my circle of friends, and not the FB kind. And not the acquaintance type. Real friends, the kind you laugh and cry with and share life with. I wanted more of them.
- Plan to move. (don’t plan the going away party just yet) I want to be close to my kids wherever they are across the country (and at this point they are just that, CA, MI, IL) I want to visit them, spend time with them, in their lives and towns, not just mine. If or when they have children of their own, I want to know them, which will mean going to them and welcoming them where I am. Whether we move or not is still talk more than reality but I want to be mentally ready to start over, make new friends, learn a new town.
- Learn new things. I want to keep reading, listening to discussions, engage in thought, keep up with technology, try a new game.
- Expand my world. The opposite of circling the wagons. Embrace change, even create it if things seem too much the same.
The last 5 years have been full. I have traveled, I took a class, I made new friends, I accepted a new position, I even dared to go onto the SU campus by myself, twice. I have ventured to learn from some very bright people who allow me to be in the room with them and contribute. Though I often wonder why, I am grateful they welcome me. I have chosen to remain a learner, because I don’t know it all and never will. And I have continued to grow in my faith as well. My faith is not a destination but a direction that I choose to follow. One that takes me towards Jesus not away. There’s no end in that. I want to trust, reach, listen, obey. And that never stops. I have seen others live ahead of me that have been great examples Doug B., Norma G., Jack M. Their faith is real and continues to expand. They have not circled the wagons and shrunk back, waiting for the inevitable. They are pioneers pushing forward and I am hoping I can follow in the path they are walking.
I have invited my mom and dad to come to live in my town, in a house across the street and their response was ‘that just wouldn’t work’. Why? “We belong here. In this house.” They are tied to a place, a house, an address. I told them I don’t want to be tied to a house, I want to be connected to people. That is what home is, it’s who you belong to and with.
I come home to Fayetteville grateful for my husband, my kids and my life. And determined to live it fully. Because my 20 good years is down to 15 now. If it is shorter than that, it’s ok. I’m living it full on. And if it’s longer, then that’s a bonus.