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Dear Boyos of Mine,

It’s time to think of the future. One day, I will be old. My plan is that I’ll live to be a feisty old lady with no serious illnesses and will die peacefully in my sleep, many years from now. In London. I can then just be quietly cremated with no fuss, because I will have lived a good long life. It’s a good plan, I like it.

There is a chance, though, as with all older folks, that I may not be able to take care of myself, for whatever reason. Your dad will handle it if he is able to, but the job may fall to the three of you.

I figure that I have at least a 50/50 chance of keeping my wits about me as a senior. Both of my grandmothers had forms of dementia/memory loss and had to have full-time nursing home care while my grandfathers stayed mentally sharp and passed away from physical ailments. Meanwhile, I am following every piece of advice that I can to stave off any future mental and physical issues including eating (mostly) right, daily physical exercise, music, mental workouts, and my absolute favorite, drinking (at least) a glass of red wine a night. (Don’t tell me that grape juice has the same effect. It’s not nearly as nice.)  I am truly trying to be a future trouble-free old person and lessen the burden on the three of you. But just in case you do have to put me somewhere, here are a few of my requests in advance.

  1. Don’t let the nursing home staff put little bows in my hair. I am not a poodle.
  2. Please, please, enforce my DNR. One thing that terrifies me is not being able to take care of myself and being totally dependent on others to live. Just let me go.
  3. If I say bad words, it’s okay to laugh. I went to visit one of my grandmothers at lunchtime in her nursing home a couple of months before she died. There was a lady sitting across from her being fed by an attendant who would smile wickedly, look at her attendant, and say, “Puta” (Spanish for “prostitute”) to her instead of eating her tapioca, or whatever pudding it was. The attendant would gently tell her that that it wasn’t nice to say that, whereupon the lady would smile and giggle like a naughty child and say it again: “Puta”. The attendant was struggling to keep a straight face, as was I. It was very much like listening to a toddler swear. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She knew exactly what she was doing, she was trying to get a reaction, and she knew that she nailed it. Please allow me moments like that if I’m stuck in a care facility. Humor is vital, especially in that kind of situation.
  4. Don’t talk to me like a baby. Give me my dignity. I gave birth to all of you, for God’s sake, after many hours of pain. I might be a little mentally compromised, but I’m still your mother. Try to have a normal conversation with me.
  5. Don’t let them dress me in stupid clothes. No sweatshirts with kitties or unicorns on them. I don’t wear them now and I won’t want to wear them then. I’m not five.
  6. Make sure I get a little red wine everyday. It will make me happy. Our neighbor’s mother, who is going on 102, still gets her little bit of happiness every day. Make it happen.
  7. Bring my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to see me once in a while. Enough said.
  8. Don’t feel guilty for having to put me there. I can’t say how I will take it when and if the actual decision is made, but know that now, consciously, I understand that you will do what you need to do. Hopefully, I’ll make it easy on you. Dealing with the various debilitating mental issues of the elderly, or of anyone for that matter, takes a huge toll and can be more than a full time job. I don’t want you to exhaust yourself making sure that I don’t go wandering in the middle of the night. As long as I’m receiving good care, ease your mind about the whole thing.

I know, and pray, that this is probably far in the future, but I don’t want to put this off until then because if I wait, I may not be able to articulate this to you all. After watching my grandmas go through it, it terrifies me to think that it could very possibly happen to me one day, but I need to face that fear and have an outline in place.

Getting older is scary, it’s different for everyone, and I’m a control freak, as you well know. If all goes well, you won’t have to deal with any of it, but if not, just print out a copy of this and all will be fine.

Love you all,

Mama

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I was cleaning our bedroom yesterday, not just the weekly maintenance of taking water glasses downstairs or popping stray socks in to the hamper, but get-out-the-Pledge-and-dustrags-and-Swiffer type cleaning. True confession: I’m not a fastidious housekeeper. I really hate taking time out to clean, although I like a clean house and am a bit of a germaphobe, so I compromise with myself. I keep the kitchen, living room, and the main bathroom consistently clean, but the bedroom, while everything has its place, does not get the dusting and floor attention it deserves. Every couple of months or so, it finally gets to me enough that I dive in and do it, but there is a healthy accumulation of dust in the meantime. I really am okay with it, though. Life’s too short, although my husband and our kids would tell you that I always worry about cleaning. It’s all about perspective, right?

Anyway, I also usually do a purge of clothes, shoes, and costume jewelry at this time of year which involves going through all of the drawers, the closet, and such. I also go through the little drawers on top of my dresser where I keep treasured letters and cards that I have received over the years, including a letter that my father wrote to his father in March of 1973. I know that it’s there, but every time I go through that drawer, I pull it out to read. It makes me feel close to him and every time I read it, I gain new insight into his thoughts.

The letter was written at a time when my dad was trying to find himself. From other writings of his that I’ve read, I knew he felt like he didn’t quite fit, that he struggled with what was expected of him, and what his feelings were. To me, he sounds a lot like me.

The letter comes from California. He was nineteen at the time and had left home to go and live with his oldest sister, my aunt, in the land of peace and love. He had dropped out of high school, despite having a high IQ, had been honorably discharged from the Navy after only a few weeks, and really didn’t seem to have a direction in life. He and my mom had been dating on again, off again and things weren’t certain. He tempered his emotions and discontent with other substances, especially weed. He wasn’t getting along with his dad and wanted a fresh start out on the west coast.

The letter is dutiful in the beginning, telling his father all about what they have been doing in California and what the weather was like. Then, a tone of regret as he tells his father that when he gets home, he would like to talk to him, really talk to him, even though they had had their differences in the past. An attempt at reconciliation. He goes on to say that things were much better between him and my mother (A good thing, or I probably wouldn’t be writing this) and then delves into the environmental requirements of cars and lawn mowers in California, a much more comfortable subject for him.

It’s all very cool to read and sentimental, but the thing about this particular letter that floors me every time is that at the time he wrote it, he had just over a year to live. That’s it. On March 22, 1974, one week and three weeks later, he would lose his young life in an impaired car accident. Did he know that? Of course not. And that’s what brings me back to that letter again and again, forcing me to think about things that I would rather push to the side.

We don’t know when our last day will be. We have no clue. When my father wrote that letter, he had no idea that he wouldn’t live to essentially grow up, that he would never see his only child born, that he would never be able to fully repair that relationship with his father, that he wouldn’t marry my mother as he had planned to do. Those plans would never happen and it was terribly tragic, leaving so many people with holes in their hearts, including me, who never got to meet him.

My point is this: we all have plans, every single one of us. I don’t mean plans like redoing the kitchen or taking books back to the library, I mean real plans, like telling someone that they’re loved, or forgiving an old hurt, Plans like making a wrong right, or at least taking responsibility for it. Plans like letting someone know that you were wrong, asking for forgiveness, or maybe letting someone know that they touched your life in some way.  Maybe you need to make a life choice that involves taking a risk in order to be happy. You know, the important things, the things that you would deeply regret if you didn’t do them.

I don’t mean to imply that we should try to repair bridges with everyone who hurt us. There are definitely people who are toxic, who are the sources of trauma, who would hurt us again and again, physically or emotionally, and we should stay far away. I would never reconcile with my abuser or let him into my life in any way. That kind of situation is better left to trying to internally forgive and move on to bring closure rather than to make sense of what happened or connect with those involved. But there are other situations that can be fixed or at least improved.

New Year’s Day is coming up in two more days, a day of resolutions and new beginnings. Maybe, instead of halfheartedly resolving to quit smoking or to lose weight, we can resolve to try and heal an area of our lives. What have you been putting off that keeps whispering in your ear every now and again?

Many of us, myself included, don’t like making the first move on anything. My anxiety issues make me prone to obsessing over the worst possible outcomes until that seems worse than what I had originally intended to do, so I usually don’t. But what if we knew that we only had a year left, unlike my father? Would that spur us on to reach out, to make that connection to say what needs to be said? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. The thing is, we just don’t know how much time we have on this earth. We’re not promised tomorrow, whether we like thinking about it or not. What would be your biggest regret if you died tomorrow?

I haven’t put the letter away just yet because it’s been sitting on my mind this whole time and I knew I needed to write about what was inside. It’s sitting on my dresser, my father’s handwriting, the paper he touched and folded into a makeshift envelope staring at me. As I’m getting ready to click “Publish” on this post, I feel that urgency draining away and I’ll be able to return it to its accustomed spot in the little drawer, but I know that my mind will wander back when I think about him and out it will come. Even though he’s gone, my father is still teaching me life lessons.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy and Blessed New Year. Peace to you in 2018.

 

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