Grace on Growing Old
Three middle aged women sat at a table in a small cafe enjoying their monthly 'ladies who lunch' occasion. They had been doing this for ten years and they were a close knit group.
" You know, Rachel still goes and visits her mom every day. Can you believe that?" said Debbie.
"Her mom??? Rachel is 80! You mean she goes to the cemetery?" Edith said
"No, she visits her mom. Her mom is 102!" Debbie said
"Oh isn't that wonderful! She must be so happy to still have her mother." Edith said sadly. She had lost her mother 5 years ago and the pain of missing her was with her every day.
"Ugh! I can't imagine living that long. No thanks" thought Grace. But when the table fell silent she realized she had said it out loud. That had been happening a lot lately.
"What?" she said
"Grace, are you okay?? " Debbie , a self proclaimed nurturer, looked at Grace with her best "I'm here for you" face. She put her hand on Grace's.
"Of course I'm okay!" said Grace feeling uncomfortable at being the focus of the attention at the table. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well you just basically said you don't want to live that long...." said Edith who was more focused on her lunch than on what was going on.
"I don't! Do you all want to live to be that old?" she was incredulous every time she heard someone talk like this.
"Are you suicidal Grace, do you need to talk?" Debbie was starting to irritate Grace.
"Oh for heaven's sake, Debbie. I am not suicidal. I love my life. I just don't want to live to be a decrepit old woman waiting to die. Who wants that? I don't understand people who want to add years to their life when those added years will be as a very old person. No thanks. I want to go out while I am still fully functional. In fact, I could go anytime now, and that would be fine with me." Grace took a sip of her wine and hoped they would let it drop now.
"So, you're saying if you got hit by a bus on your way home today, we could know that you died happy?" asked Edith between bits of her lasagna.
Grace thought about it and wondered how she could make her friends understand her point of view.
"Okay look. I have done everything I am supposed to in my life. Got an education, then a career and then got married, had kids and now I have grand kids. What more is there for me to do? I don't want to travel, I don't have a husband anymore to grow old with. My health isn't great and I can't imagine how i will be ten or twenty years from now. I guess what I am saying is 'quit while you're ahead'. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to check out of this life whenever you choose? Avoid all of the decline that comes with aging?"
Edith, who was 10 years older than Grace, stopped eating and looked at her.
"I'm 68 years old, Grace, and I have so much I still want to do. I feel like I have only begun my life now that I am retired. I've never felt better than I do now."
Grace found it hard to believe that Edith had never felt better. What about when she was young? But she didn't say anything.
"Well Edith, that's good for you then. You are very lucky. I'm not saying everyone should feel like I do, I am just saying how I feel. " she looked at Debbie "How is Rachel's mother? Does she still live alone, does she have all her faculties? Does she enjoy her life? "
Debbie was thoughtful for a minute or so.
"Well.....she is in a home. And she's blind and in a wheelchair. But Rachel says she is always cheerful when she come to visit her. She seems to know who Rachel is and they have good visits."
Grace thought about that. How could she be happy living like that? Being blind would be especially hard. Not being able to read or play on her computer, or paint or any of the things she liked to do. And since she was diabetic she knew that blindness was a very real possibility for her down the road.
"What about your family? Your grandkids? Wouldn't they miss you?" asked Edith.
"My children are busy with their own lives. They don't have time for me...." she put her hand up to stop Debbie from interrupting "...it's okay Debbie, I am not feeling sorry myself. It's a fact of life, that when your kids grow up they don't need you anymore. It's as it should be. I didn't need my mother after I got married. It was nice to have her, don't get me wrong, but she wasn't a big part of my life."
Grace's mother had died in her sleep two years ago. She had been healthy and active. It had been a terrible blow to her. Her mother had been 75 years old. Never sick a day in her life. But what a blessed way to go.
"Think of it this way. Do you really want to become a burden on your family? Do you want them to watch you decline year after year? Do you really want to rot away in a nursing home and have people come visit you as a duty or as a volunteer job? Do you want to drain the health care system for years with all of the various illness the elderly are prone to? I don't. I want to live each day to the fullest. I want to wake up every day grateful for the gift of a new day. I want to have fun. And....I am ready to die. I want it to be quick. And I want it to be either in my sleep or doing something crazy like bungee jumping or skydiving. That's how I feel. " Grace knew she would never bungee jump or skydive but she thought that throwing that in would dispel any ideas of her being suicidal.
"I can't believe you are being so negative and so selfish, Grace." said Debbie, her eyes filling with tears.
"I don't see it that way Deb. " She grabbed her hand. "I am not going to die any minute, silly. I am taking good care of myself so that the time I am here is good. But I mean it when I say I am done. Not sad, not depressed, just done." And with that she stood up, hugged her friends , left some money for her share of the bill and said "I have to go now. I have to go to my salsa dancing class. It's been a slice."
There was no salsa dancing class. She was going home to curl up on the couch and read. But her friends didn't know that.
Edith and Debbie silently watched her leave.
"Poor Grace, " said Debbie, sadly "we really need to be there for her, Edith and help her through this suicidal depression."
Edith was thoughtful for a moment.
"Maybe I am as crazy as Grace, because I think she makes a lot of sense".