My path has crossed with many wonderful, bright and inspirational old women. Some of them have become role models, showing me not only how I hope to age, but also how I intend to age.
Last weekend I had the honour of helping move a soon 101-year-old friend. Clara lived on her own until she was 99, and only moved into a ‘home’ at the insistence of her son (himself a mere 80…) who were justifiably worried about his mother carrying her laundry down the steep basement stairs.
It cannot be easy, having had independence and a home of ones own, to move into a retirement facility with assigned roommates and shared baths and bedrooms. Yet our society sort them together, based on the single common denominator of advanced years. They might be cranky or kind, demented or bright, kleptomaniacs or law abiding citizens, liars or painfully honest, religious or atheist, strong or sickly, chatty or hardly uttering a word- yet they are housed together, often with people with mental problems that our society does not know where to place. Thus, it is confirmed that if you are old, weak or mentally unstable, all are equally undesirable.
But Clara doesn’t bemoan her situation. She is a prairie girl through and through, who does not easily resort to complaining. She might mumble something about the loss of sanity of a certain ‘cell mate’, but in all fairness, who wouldn’t, if one had to live at close quarters with someone not of ones own choosing.
Clara is clearly blessed with good family genes, but attitude and outlook on life have a lot to do with how people approach their aging. Take Cliff, a wonderful 92-year-old blind gentleman who still visits his daughter in Mexico. I asked him one day how he can travel on his own. “I just tell them, I don’t see worth a damn and I am not much good at walking either and somehow it works out”, he tells me. So, with his cane and knee brace, and his grace and good humour, he gets chauffeured from gate to gate without a glitch!
A couple of weeks ago, Clara was offered a new room on the second floor of her retirement home. She would still share it with someone, but it would give her a few more square feet to navigate her wheel chair, store her few belongings and even allow space for her antique side table that she had stored with a neighbour. So Clara, at one hundred and a half, decided to go for it!
My pal Char and I volunteered as her moving helpers, bringing her table, bubble-wrapped and taped to oblivion. It is really not that much to do when one moves a centenarian. At that age, the few that are still be around have managed to get rid of most superfluous stuff. (Though wheelchair-bound Clara still insists on keeping a pair of runners, in case…) The furniture, bedding, medicine and ‘vehicles’ of choice etc. is provided by the facility. The only personal items that the residents have are photos and a few decorative items.
Char and I were pushing Clara’s furniture around to find the optimal viewing angle between TV, wheel chair and comfy chair, without impeding too much on the shared space with her roommate. The latter was visibly excited about our visit, probably hadn’t not seen as much action for ages. The two ladies nodded in agreement from their respective wheelchairs as we held up artwork and family photos for approval.
Clara followed us to the elevator, shuffling her slippered feet along. She thanked us again and again for the help, sending us off with her blessings. It should be me thanking her for the privilege of knowing her. Not because she has been given with a long life, but because she at soon 101 still entertains the ‘old’ people at her residence by playing psalms on the piano in the common room!