Since turning 16, I have had a problem with my birthday. It wasn’t the goofy necklace my boyfriend at the time gave me. It wasn’t any cataclysmic event. It’s just that getting older stuns me.
My husband’s grandmother lived to be 101. Towards the end she was in a nursing home. Like any of us, she had good days and bad. Like the book “Evening” by Susan Minot*, her life was sometimes on playback as she went about the process of continuing to breathe. On a random visit Grandma T and I started talking about when she was young. We talked about when she would paint, and how she picked colours. We talked about when she taught, how different things were then. It was a defining moment for me. I was hyper aware of the incredible age and charm of this person – her grace and her gifts, her calm and her wit. I was also aware that inside the frail and tiny body was a person who had dreamed, created, loved, and who was not merely a remnant of a life gone by.
On another visit, I helped Grandma use the washroom. As I was clumsily trying to help, desperate to be gentle and respectful, I inadvertently snapped her with the waistband of her pants. She giggled, and said “Oh, Steve…” Later as I left, I asked at the desk what shift Steve worked. She hadn’t been admonishing in her tone, it was no mistaking the affection in her voice and I was glad she had connected with an aide in the home. No Steve worked there. As I drove home I smiled to myself. Grandma had been married for a lifetime. To a man named Lawrence.
When I am 101 and lying in a bed by a window, I want a full colour, full flavoured life on the play back reel. I want stories to tell, memories to treasure, and even pain to contrast the joy against. So that settles it. I need to stop hating my birthday and get on with living my life.
*Evening is an incredible book, and they did it justice in the movie as well. It reflects my experiences with someone who died slowly, my belief that life is not always a tidy package, and my conviction that we must seize moments we are presented with, else we will live with regrets.