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I’ve just returned from several days in New Jersey visiting my aunt and uncle. I grew up in New Jersey but they are the reason I return once a year. I love my aunt (my Nana’s sister) and uncle but it’s more than that. They teach me the wisdom of decades of life. Nine decades and counting, to be precise. My uncle tells me stories about serving in the infantry in World War II and being stationed in Italy for two years. He also has shown me where General George Washington stayed when he was in our home town, which dates to 1686, and where the tea was burned in the market square at Greenwich in December 1774, in honor of the Boston Tea Party. My aunt tells me stories about our family and even though I’ve been journaling these stories for years, there are new ones each time I visit.
They have been married for 69 years and plan to see their 70th wedding anniversary in July 2017. They drive, they go to church on Sundays, and they go to a lot of funerals. They balance the funerals with baby showers, weddings and family get-togethers, though the number of friends and neighbors who have gone from their lives in the last few years is daunting and does take a toll, my aunt has shared. Still they recollect the good times, of which there are thousands. They remember striking details about their long lives. Their very first date. He took her to see the fireworks in the park on the fourth of July and shared a Milky Way candy bar. This year, she recounted the first time he took her to meet his mother. On the way to the house, he asked her to put on lipstick, which he pulled from his pocket! She shared that she wasn’t allowed to wear lipstick, and he told her it would be off by the time she got home and carefully applied it for her.
She adds details to his stories, and vice versa, as if they were simultaneously weaving a quilt. She also reminds him when he’s getting it wrong. However, the details they remember are amazing and convey the emotional impact of an adventurous life that was a constant collaboration. They’re a team. Now, the adventures continue, but many of them are the coordination of numerous doctor appointments and elevated self-care. How do you face the end of your days when you enjoy and have enjoyed life so fully? My aunt seems a little depressed when we have visited these last two years, but being of strong faith she looks forward to seeing her mother, her beloved sister and the multitude of friends and family who have died. Part of the mental strain for them is the thought that one will survive the other for even a brief period. They are always together.
I have found myself in uncharted territory, not knowing what to say. I’m the “big change coach”, the “if you don’t like it, change it”, guru. I’m also an ameliorator. I work hard to make everyone feel better. But the reality is, one of these days soon, they are going to die. And yes, none of us knows how many days we get, and death is always a possibility on any given day. But when you’re 90 and 94, mortality is the elephant in the room. And, one will likely die before the other. So, I listen and I learn. And I hug them a lot. I don’t try to convince them they have years left, even though they might. Nor do I put energy into thoughts of “this might be the last time I see them”. I simply enjoy the day, each day I have them in my life. And make the time to go see them. Listen to the stories, old and new. And learn about life, relationships and being ninety-something. We don’t agree about everything, but when you take time to listen, there is always something to learn.
I have new material for essays and a broadened perspective on life itself. The other important point, I realized that I absolutely do live a life I love. I am happy to be home with my family, my friends, my dog, my FB community, and the work I love writing for you and coaching you toward happiness and a life you can’t wait to get home to.
Hugs and happiness to you,
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