O One Hundred
My mother will be one hundred years old this year.
It’s hard for me to get my mind around that. I’ve always thought of her as so young in spirit. This is a woman who, in her eighties, was still taking care of her own house, gardening, and doing her own yard work. At ninety she was still driving. At ninety-one she bought a new house right next to my brother’s, sold the house she’d been living in for forty years, and packed up and moved. And she still drove for another couple of years--her almost-daily trips to the supermarket--and kept up her house well until dementia stole in on her.
She was a child during World War I and a young working woman during the Depression. She lived through the deprivations and anxieties of World War II, staying with her mother while my father was in the army in Europe. She had several miscarriages before I was born, when she was thirty-eight, and my brother a year and a half later. When my father passed away in 1979 at the age of sixty-eight, I worried that she, like some other widows, might deteriorate without him; but she showed me her strength. She has lived through the losses of all of her siblings and lifelong friends. And, like others of the “greatest generation,” she lived through technological and societal changes that were unimaginable when she was born.
I always hoped, even believed at times, that she would make it to one hundred. I imagined her as being the same as I always knew her, mentally sharp, funny, a wonderful storyteller, independent. By the time she made it to her mid-nineties, I thought she had outlived dementia; I believed erroneously that if it was going to come, it would have come earlier, when she was in her seventies or eighties. I still don’t know whether my brother’s sudden death had anything to do with it, but I know now that the risk only increases with age.
I’ve always hoped too that I’d live as long as she has. Now I’m not sure I want to. Don’t we all hope to live to be old but still have our health and, especially, our mental faculties?
I belong to the generation that doesn’t want to grow old (or sometimes even up). We think we’ll be magically protected as long as we keep wearing jeans and listening to rock ‘n’ roll. And there is something to be said for maintaining a youthful attitude and frame of mind, for continuing to do and learn new things. Science tells us to keep our bodies and minds active as a possible way to prevent Alzheimer’s, but as yet no one really knows what, if anything, is effective in warding off this disease. Yet being an active learner and doer and staying connected socially surely can only be good for us. Maybe for us “boomers” blogging is one way we’ve found to keep our minds active.
My mother will be one hundred in August, and I’m planning a special birthday party for her. We’ll hold it in her facility, and I’m hopeful that all or most of our family will be able to make it. There aren’t many of us left. She has one remaining sister-in-law; the rest will be first- and second-generation nieces and nephews, as well as her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. We’ll come together from New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island to pay respects to the matriarch of the family and to express love for her. I don’t know how much she’ll understand of what’s going on. Every so often she asks me, “How old am I now?”, and when I tell her she makes a face and says, “Wow, that’s old.” Yes, it is, Mom, and you’ve made it with grace and strength. When I tell other people how old she is, they say, “God bless her.” He has, and I pray that He will continue to do so.