I'm thinking a lot about age these days; growing old, feeling old, acting old. Perhaps it was the heart attack my dad had, or my time with my grandma over the weekend, but it seems to be hitting closer to home than I'd like to admit.
I realize that it's a blessing to grow old. Far too many people, some of whom I've loved, aren't blessed with as many years as I've enjoyed. Still, it's scary. The physical transformation alone is frightening to me; thoughts of cancer, Alzheimers, dementia, heart failure and a myriad of other maladies seem to creep into my brain at various points, and I say a little prayer that I've been healthy all these years.
I think of my grandma, who at 92 is still sassy at times, but declining. So much so that she doesn't always remember who I am, and sometimes insists on speaking only in German. I can't pretend to have been around to see all the signs of her aging; I moved away after high school , and, since then, have visited but haven't seen her for extended periods of time. I only catch moments here and there.
I went to see her last weekend, to tell her about Dad's heart attack and hospital stay, and to assure her that he was ok. The visit started with helping her to the bathroom. Once she was settled, I sat on the bench in the shower and we talked. She's to the point where modesty means nothing, and sitting on the toilet isn't any different to her than sitting in her living room chair. I looked–really looked–at her while we talked. That's when it really hit me for the first time: I she is me, just 50 years down the road.
I have her body shape; the hips that have spread far too wide after bringing babies into the world, the varicose veins that prove I waitressed and worked retail for more than my fair share of years, the ample belly that hangs out even though it's not welcome. I saw in her face the years she spent worrying about and taking care of others, and heard the desperation and sadness in her voice when she told me about being lonely. Her eyes have grown hollow and cloudy, and her skin is sporting spots that were never there before.
I realized that someday I'll be where she is (God willing). I'll have lived a life full of kids, family, friends, events, trips, experiences and everything in between; but I might be alone, lonely, confused and sad. I realized that I don't know nearly enough about who she really is; I know her as my grandma. I don't know why she married a man who came and went without much rhyme or reason, or why she never learned to drive a car, or what makes her soul sing. And now, she's too far gone to share any of that with me. She doesn't even know anymore; how can she tell us?
Yesterday was the first day of Lent. As a 'cradle Catholic' I've all too often gone through the motions; accepted the ashes, attended Mass, given up the sugar or soda. This year, I'm thinking less about giving up frivolous things that mean nothing and more about what sacrifice really means. Grandma made them; for her kids, her grandkids and those she loved. Something tells me she didn't live life as much as she truly wanted to.
Or maybe she did. Maybe raising a family really was what made her heart sing. Maybe it was praying the rosary, or baking hatzia. I wonder if, when my time comes, my kids will feel like they really knew me or if they wonder about the same things that are dancing through my mind these days. It's my job now, isn't it, to leave them a legacy they can cherish? To leave little pieces of me, and proof of how much I adore them, along the journey?
I read something by my friend Vasavi earlier today that reminded me that not sharing who we are, and what makes us happy, is selfish. I think that's what I'll try to give up for Lent: the walls, the deflection, the pretense that we just don't have time to talk and share. I realize it's not the same as forgoing soda on my grocery trip, but I have a feeling that the benefits are much more interesting.