“I’m bothered about this thing with Sandy,” my mother said.
“You mean that she died? You can say that she died,” I responded, a little harshly.
The “thing with Sandy” was not just her discomfort with the word “died” (if you don’t say it out loud, you keep it away apparently), but Sandy, a woman she knew for over 60 years, recently died of lung cancer even though she never smoked. Who in their generation wasn’t exposed to second-hand smoke? So now my mother worries that this will happen to her, especially since both my grandmother and my father smoked.
There seems to be a lottery wheel constantly rolling around in her head with things that she could die of. Unfortunately, the wheel keeps expanding when she hears about yet another person’s death.
At 89, so much of her life exists in memories and then recounted in long phone calls with friends, where the focus is on taking turns to retell, to relive, but not to listen, because that’s not the point, that’s not what’s needed in the exchange.
Women in their 80s and 90s, holding on, rarely going out because of illnesses or fears of the dangers out there. Their increasing frailness and so few positive things to look forward enable trepidation to become a barrier.
Do they only look forward to seeing their children and grandchildren, and hoping for great-grandchildren? Are they done thinking of things to do? Are memories enough? Has life become a waiting game, even though the end is dreaded?
Looking at my mother, at her life that has been still for so long, I wonder what I want to be doing or thinking about if I make it to my 90s.
At 62, I have a hypothetical 30 years to go—not a pause or an epilogue, entire chapters, a new book, a lifetime. Looking at it in stark numbers terms, if I don’t want to regret my life as still life, I need to commit myself to more than I’m doing now. How should I spend the next third of my life (fingers crossed, tfu tfu tfu), so I don’t live with regrets for/in 30 years.
The other day I realized that I’m always searching for meaning. But I’m not content with that; I can simultaneously wonder and do.
With all the time I have to write, I realize that I don’t want to just sit and reflect. I need to be thinking about what I’m doing, gaining insights from living, not only remembering or observing.
Lately, my focus has been on where I’ll live, but that’s not a cure or the core. That won’t satisfy my endless desire for purpose, to push beyond the borders of my life as it is.
What will make me feel fulfilled? What new stories will I recount, animating conversations with as yet unmet people?
I’ve been retired for two years; enough time to know that I need something new; but not travel, or a hobby, or a relationship, or a pet. Studies and related work: to get me out of my meditations, not letting my concern for my mother overshadow concerns for myself.
I’m a busy person with two paid part-time jobs and two volunteer jobs: dogsitting, course evaluator for online courses, grant writer, and translator of Holocaust testimonies. Each of these jobs brings satisfaction, but none is enough. None animates my entire being and I realize that I want that: I don’t want to retire from contributing of myself.
In the past, I have often fallen into things. Now I need to be intentional, to get off the conveyor belt. I’m leaning towards expanding my knowledge in a chosen area that aligns with who I am and what I’ve done, so that I can express myself fully in mind, being, and actions. The direction is mine to determine.