These days, before I leave the house, I make my bed and straighten up things in the kitchen, in case I don’t come home. I’m 84 years old, and end-of-life issues are on my mind. I worry I might drop dead while away from home or end up in hospital. I don’t want whoever goes into my house to find a mess.
I’m not the neatest person. My desk at work was not neat, and neither is the desk in my home office. Every now and then I go into a frenzy of cleaning and straightening out and throwing things away. I don’t want my kids to kill me when I die. “Why did Mom leave such a mess? Did she really have to keep all those files? And all these books?!”
When my mother died she left very little for my brother and me to clear up and throw away. It was a gift she left us. I want to do the same, but I’ll have to live a while longer to accomplish that.
My mother died at 84, the age I am now. Long ago I did one of those surveys that tells you how long you are going to live. It said I’d live to be 85. I didn’t like that answer and have decided I will live to at least 90. Will I?
I’ve been a widow for four years. My husband always thought he’d live to be 96, like his mother. But he died at 89. Last year a dear friend died at 84. She thought she’d live a long life, since her parents did. And another dear friend died recently at 82. So, you can see why all of this is on my mind.
Every day I wake up glad that nothing hurts, except for my arthritic shoulders. People think I am doing well, which I am, except I don’t like to bend down too often because I dread the thought of getting up.
A few of my friends are using canes. Glasses, hearing aids, canes – they all make life livable. But even so, some are having trouble coming up my front steps. A couple have even said they won’t come to my house any more because of them. “Those are the stairs from hell!” said one. When I measured them against my inside steps I saw they were a bit higher and narrower. Now, even I am not enjoying walking up to my front door but I can still do it. A condo beckons, but I don’t want to move. I love my neighbours.
It worries me that some other friends are losing their cognition. Mine is apparently not too bad. I had to retake my driver’s test recently. Drivers have to do it every two years once they reach 80 in Ontario but now the examiners only test your vision and ask you to draw a clock with the arms at 10 minutes after 11. I can still do that.
I’m not shy about telling people my age. In reply, I often hear, “You don’t look that old.” (I’ll stop telling people how old I am when they stop saying that.) But I am keenly aware of my age and keenly grateful for the friends who are still alive, especially the ones from nursery school and kindergarten. I have newer friends from my work days and others from the acting and writing classes I pursued when I retired. As I age, friendships are even more precious. My friends feel the same way; they tell me so. I don’t want to lose any more of them.
Human beings are social animals. The research says loneliness is dangerous to your health, and it’s good for you to interact in one way or another with seven people a day. Now that I live on my own, I have to make an effort to stave off the scourge of loneliness.
And while I like people, I also like to be alone when it is my choice. But it’s reassuring to know my calendar is mostly full of plans to be with other people, to enjoy plays and the opera, and to head off to travel. I believe that when you step out the front door, even if you have to make your way down steep steps, good things happen.
My kids and grandkids will lose me one day. But I’ll do my best to stay around for a few years more. So, excuse me, I have to tidy up my bedroom and put the dishes in the dishwasher. I’m going out soon, to a concert, with a friend. I am confident I’ll return. But you never know.
Ruth Miller lives in Toronto.