Lately, I’ve been thinking about being older, closer to death, and an actor in my “last act” wondering about my legacy.
My nighttime dreams have always been like Fellini films with lots of color, weird people from the distant past mixed with new people in odd places with lots of confusion. Waking from them is often a relief from the chaos.
But now there are new dreams that message my mortality. There is one in particular that really burns. It’s the one where I finally meet a wonderful man and fall in love. I feel warm and glowing. My joy in finding him is boundless. In a state of euphoria, I imagine our future and the baby we will make.
But then I wake up and remember I’m an old woman and there will be no more falling in love and there will be no more babies. It feels like I’ve been sucker punched in the gut. An overwhelming sadness envelops me. I realize most of my life has passed and much that I used to look forward to is no longer possible.
Soon I’ll be 69 – the age my dad died from a heart attack and from heartbreak caused when my mom left him. His died alone and was found a few days later by a neighbor.
My mom lived 86 years. She died the way most would like – without suffering and with her husband (my stepfather) holding her hand. She had just returned home from walking her dog and was winded and felt faint. She was taken to the hospital and told her heart was giving out. She said no to any treatment and died peacefully after saying her goodbyes.
Death occupies my thoughts more than in the past. When I try to imagine it, it’s a large blank. As a non-believer, I think that death is the end except for the memories we provide for a few for a while.
It’s not that I obsess about death, but it pops up in unusual contexts.
For example, the other day I had some new plumbing installed and the plumber proudly informed me that the new pipes should last 20 years. Rather than elation from being spared a repeat expense for 20 long years, I wondered if I’d still be around when these pipes poop out.
There’s an ad on TV that my daughter and I joke about. Its tag line is “A Place for Mom”. It’s about a service that helps adult children find a place to put their elderly mothers. We laugh that she will give them a call when I get so crotchety that I need strangers to care for me.
Sometimes I think about the things I wanted to do but now it’s too late. The idea that certain options are foreclosed makes me sad – even if I never actually would have done them.
Running for political office is probably no longer an option. Even if my age alone was not a factor, my age infused candor probably is. I can’t imagine not answering questions, begging for money and compromising matters that shouldn’t be.
I used to fantasize about sailing around the world. I no longer have the energy. Sailing is a lot of work and I’ve grown accustomed to a good night’s sleep (except for those dreams I told you about) in my comfy bed.
And then there is that novel that never made it into print. After taking a bunch of writing courses and practicing the craft, I’ve learned that short essays are more my forte.
Being a person with a healthy ego, it pains me to accept that I’ll probably never be famous. I used to fantasize about doing something so noteworthy, I’d be a guest on Oprah or The Today Show. Fame, at this stage of my life, is probably not in the cards. As such, the challenge is accepting anonymity.
There’s an old woman who lives in my condo complex who volunteers to take care of the landscaped plants. Every day I see her around inspecting the greenery. She wears no makeup, her hair is short, grey and without style, her jeans, tee shirt and sandals rarely vary. She is deeply engaged with each leaf as she sits or kneels on the stone pathway communing with her friends. I envy her. She is everything I am not. I bet she never wanted to be on The Today Show. She is content.
Sometimes I think about my car and my apartment and whether they will be my last.
My car is a 2010 Prius. I’ve yet to read the handbook and learn all the cool things it can do. But I do know how to drive it, set the GPS and turn on KPBS. It has a little over 63,000 miles. If I average 5-6000 miles per year, it will likely last the rest of my life. I remember my mother’s last car was about 25 years old when she died. She never wanted a new one because she didn’t want to learn all the new electronic gadgets. She liked having an actual key to open the car door. I now understand her wisdom.
Over the past 68 years, I have lived in 18 different homes. We moved 5 times when I was growing up and then I moved 13 times as an adult. It’s weird to think that I’m probably in my last home. When I bought it, I never thought about it being my last, but as it turns out, it just may be. It is a perfect spot. It’s on the first floor, near the elevator, mailbox and trash chute. I can walk to everything I need and it’s on various bus routes. It’s also close to medical facilities and there’s a guest room for a caretaker . . . just in case.
A lot of women my age are occupied with grandchildren. Apparently the experience is quite fulfilling. Many claim they prefer it to motherhood. Being needed for childcare and support provides a compelling reason for being. My guess is it keeps thoughts of mortality at bay.
My daughter is not inclined to reproduce so I’ll probably never be a granny. I’m okay with her decision because I’m proud to call myself a second wave feminist who worked long and hard for women to have reproductive choices. That said, I’m kind of sorry I’ll miss this part of the human experience.
I read something on Facebook that said people do not remember what you say or what you do, but they do remember how you make them feel. My natural optimism likes this idea. It gives me hope.
Even though I’m outspoken and can be a bit judgmental, perhaps my last act can focus more on others than on me. I’m an extrovert and it’s easy for me to engage with people. It’s probably time for me to try to make people feel good just as the plant lady does with her green friends.
My daughter read this essay and thinks it’s depressing. She wants me to get in touch with cerebral and spiritual things that I’ve never had time for. I think this is a good idea. But first, I need to grieve the past.
As my hair fades, my steps slow, and I forget more than I remember, I’m thinking about trying to lose the ego and focus more on others’ feelings. Like most of us, I do want a legacy and hopefully it will include making a few people feel good.