My 93 year old grandmother was placed on hospice care this week. Her daughters and grandchildren are rallying around her, trying to provide her, and ourselves, with comfort during her final days. She has been blessed with a long, healthy life, with a patient, steady husband of over 60 years, who predeceased her, with four daughters who love her, and with a bevy of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who think she’s a hoot.
Watching her live out her last days, I am reminded of what a blessing it is to grow old. I think of the people I have known who passed too soon. Maybe it was due to hard living or a genetic condition. Maybe it was through an accident or unexpected illness. Maybe it was through violence or suicide.
We owe it to them not to spend too much time lamenting our gray hairs, wrinkles, sags, aches, pains, and memory lapses. We owe it to them to be grateful to be alive, and to make the best we can of our lives, whatever that might look like for each of us. We owe it to them to take good care of our health and well-being. We owe it to them to nurture and value our relationships with the people who truly matter most in our lives, and to whom we matter most.
As my last living grandparent lays dying, I feel grateful to have known not just her, but all of my grandparents, and three of my great-grandparents – one of the benefits of having been born to 18 year old parents. As the end of an era draws near, I carry with me into the future the memories, stories, and words of wisdom they have shared. As my grandmother lays dying, I am reminded of how much I want to live a long, healthy, happy life, and to be surrounded by people I love, who love me back, when I lay dying.
It is up to us to lay the foundation that leads to this circle of love. Some of the questions I ask myself when faced with a decision about what is most important are: Will this matter when I’m on my death bed? Will this person be by my side when I’m on my deathbed, if he or she is still alive? Will I regret this when I’m on my deathbed? The answers always guide me to what matters most.
May we always remember who and what matters most. May we value our selves and each other well into old age. May we be kind and compassionate to our elders. And may we always be young at heart.
Here is a (most inappropriate) toast my gregarious grandmother used to say (sometimes to gales of laughter, sometimes to abject horror, depending on the company) when she had one too many glasses of wine: “Here’s to the old lady who lives on the hill; if she won’t give it to you, I will.” I love you, Gram.