Hineni. Here I am. Well, here I am again, a year later. I just turned 94. Some of you may remember an article I wrote for the Forward in October 2015. To bring you up to date, a year is a long time but it flew by like a chalom — a dream.
I am still getting used to the 90s. Things are becoming more comfortable despite the ups and downs. Mercifully there have not been any major medical problems, and each day, when I open my eyes and greet the morning, I expect to feel like my young self again. Normally that does not happen.
Growing old is one of the most surprising things that can happen to a person. You do not give it much thought, and then one day you are in your 90s — if you are lucky.
Old! You are still yourself, just a slower, achier, creakier version of the original. They say the over-90 crowd is the fastest-growing segment of the American population. Most publications about old age are self-help manuals written by people who have not themselves reached 90. What do they know of all that is lost in energy, independence, places and people? When you are in your 90s, you consider yourself a survivor.
Most people who we knew and loved are gone. Each day, we scan the obituaries. My sister Etty and I announce the passing of our acquaintances. It’s no longer a shock, just another statistic. Of course, this is not how we feel about losing our close ones, the people whose loss rocks our souls no matter their age.
In the background, inevitable questions loom, like when and if to give up our precious homes and join a so-called assisted living institution. It is a quandary. When you have lived in your home for 60 years, as I have, your home is a part of you and your family. It knows you intimately. It seems like a safe haven. Sometimes it is, other times it is not. But this is the place where you lived when you were in your prime, the site of your family’s history.
Living in your 90s gives you the opportunity to bestow precious moments, memories and mementos on those you love, something real and tangible for them to remember you by. And we all want to be remembered.
Sometimes, the wisest people are the ones who admit how little they know. They are intelligent without being pretentious. We each create our own image of the afterlife. I wish God had given us better options. Our consciousness is woven of forgetfulness, and somehow, as time passes, we learn to live with our departed loved ones, each according to her own nature.
This past summer I had two milestones: In June I attended the b’nai mitzvah of my granddaughters. The date for this event had been set back in 2013, and, for the past three years I had been willing myself to stay alive so that I could attend this simcha, this joyful event.. And in August I traveled to Ithaca, New York, from Cleveland, to attend the wedding of one of my other granddaughters. At both events, I was able to dance the night away. What a blessing.
My husband, Dan, is 97. The past few years have slowed him down, and we both have hade to make adjustments. We guard against isolation. Friends our age are few and far between. I encourage him to make new friends and to try new activities, but he finds that difficult. We both derive satisfaction from volunteer work. I take advantage of our wonderful Sisterhood at Park Synagogue, which offers friendship, service and culture. Each Tuesday we are steeped in education, entertainment and lunch. Bottom line: Dan and I are the lucky ones, with family close by who provide much support, love and advice. Well, some of that advice we choose to ignore. Speaking of advice, the only advice I have to offer is to make our society gun-free like Australia and England, where only the military is armed. Far fewer innocent people die in those countries than they do every day here. We have to change the culture of our entire society, although I would like to see it happen before I close my eyes.
We all have an expiration date, but I have a commitment to remain active for as long as God allows me.
As the proverb goes: “For yesterday is but a dream. And tomorrow is only a vision. But today well lived makes yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”
Geraldine F. Powers lives in Beachwood, Ohio.