October 5, 1997 in Features

Wisdom Of Age Is All Around Us

Jennifer James The Spokesman-Re
 
Tags:column

I have, for years, surrounded myself with older women, including my mother.

I have done this instinctively, not just because I really like my now senior friends, but because I want to ask them, every year, questions about life.

They currently range in age from 69 to 83 so I’ve covered most of my future.

They offer many styles and philosophies, any of which would please me. What they have in common is probably more important than what they do not. They all work and have always worked. It may not always be paid work, but it is interesting work for their community, their church or an individual they believe in.

They are teachers, writers, counselors, musicians and accountants. They are, except for the usual ups and downs, compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful, funny, healthy, happy optimists. They have all married, three have been widowed and they all have children.

They are a bit eccentric. One wears jewelry that lights up, one gave up underwear years ago, one spends part of every summer riding horses at a Wyoming ranch, one is not safe around chocolate, one is the sole remaining defender of the English language and one has maintained the same operatic hairstyle for 40 years. Her hair, when released, comes to her waist.

And then there is Mom, whom I have written about before.

Last week, as the leaves were falling, I asked each one what their hopes and fears were for the next decade. I was blunt, given my own fears. “How does it feel to be running out of time?” I asked.

None of them thought she was running out of time. They all said they had lived and were living a good life. The words they used most often were full, satisfying, interesting. They each wrote a list some years ago of their dreams, of what they still wanted to do, and since then they had accomplished most of it.

One is writing her first novel, one wrote an autobiography, two went on semi-exotic vision quests and one joined a Masonic group that she had always wanted to join. When it turned up on her list, she joined with her daughter.

My mom wanted to get to Hong Kong before the British returned the territory to China, but she wasn’t able to fit it in.

Independence was the big fear. Nobody wants to give up driving and become dependent or a burden on someone else. They all help out their older or ill friends who can no longer get around. Remember that next time you are trying to honk a senior citizen out of your way.

None of my friends feared death although all were worried about a loss of control and independence. Most wanted to choose how they die and to die fast.

They have had friends who made choices, some by refusing medicine or nutrition, some by a sheer act of will. They all have fantasies of dropping dead: in the garden, while singing in the choir, on the dance floor, in the saddle or after eating a very large bar of chocolate. They want to be remembered as who they were, not what they might become in an environment they cannot control.

Mom said she had no fear of death because, she said in her matter-of-fact British voice, it was inevitable and at a certain age you just live one year at a time.

Five of the six attend church faithfully. The most spiritual of our group believes in life on the other side and feels she will always have assignments.

She would be the perfect angel, sweet, smart, funny and wise. I’ve warned her the angel organizers might take away her flashing earrings and the cuckoo clock broach.

I love them all and feel loved in return. They give me so much, all the godmothers a middle-aged woman could need. I will be there for them as their paths unfold as they have helped me all these years. If you do not have your own godmothers or godfathers, it is never to late to recruit. I hope that there will be a day when a younger man or woman sits down with me and asks me if I fear death. I’ll add up the lives of my friends and have an easy answer.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jennifer James The Spokesman-Review


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