I hope to live to a ripe old age. Watching the end in sight for a 91-year-old family member isn’t easy, but it’s instructive. Yes, she’s got all her paperwork in order. She can pay for an assisted living space, but she’s still unprepared.
She’s incredibly weak, has no memory, and I’ve heard her say she doesn’t want to live anymore.
I’d guess that very few people are emotionally prepared to die. Turning 70 is a wake-up call. Would I be able to off myself if I totally lost it? I have no idea. I won’t know till the time comes. Would I have preparations made for that possibility? I’m not there yet.
Back in Maine, I recall talking with dear women friends about living in a house together when our spouses or partners are gone. Hanging out on our rocking chairs, repeating our old stories, embellishing them, and surely forgetting parts. We would have a nurse in residence who would hang out with us, either on the porch overlooking the ocean, or indoors by the fire.
What a lovely idea. If I live to a ripe old age — longevity doesn’t run in my family — I want to be with people I care about. And I don’t want my children and/or grandchildren to be burdened with my care. So it’s time to start planning. Bear with me, it’s not all morose.
There’s also the upside of enjoying every little thing as we age. I feel it. No more need to feel pride at my accomplishments, care what I wear, or overly worry about which words I use.
Kate Barnes, the first poet laureate of Maine, says it well.
by Kate Barnes
When I am an old, old woman I may very well be
living all alone like many another before me
and I rather look forward to the day when I shall have
a tumbledown house on a hill top and behave
just as I wish to. No more need to be proud—
at the tag end of life one is at last allowed
to be answerable to no one. Then I shall wear
a shapeless felt hat clapped on over my white hair,
sneakers with holes for the toes, and a ragged dress.
My house shall be always in a deep-drifted mess,
my overgrown garden a jungle. I shall keep a crew
of cats and dogs, with perhaps a goat or two
for my agate-eyed familiars. And what delight
I shall take in the vagaries of day and night,
in the wind in the branches, in the rain on the roof!
I shall toss like an old leaf, weather-mad, without reproof.
I’ll wake when I please, and when I please I shall doze;
whatever I think, I shall say; and I suppose
that with such a habit of speech I’ll be let well alone
to mumble plain truth like an old dog with a bare bone.
“Future Plans” by Kate Barnes from Where the Deer Were. © David R. Godine, 1994. Reprinted with permission (From “Writer’s Almanac”).
If you’ve read this far, here’s the fun part: Watch this and smile.
If I live to be 90 — and don’t have to pick up dog poop — I’d love to have a husky puppy!