This I’ve Learned…

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

My husband parked our car under the portico of Fairwinds at La Reserve. I helped Joan, my 93 ½ year-old mother-in-law, exit from the back seat while my husband unloaded his mother’s collapsible, wheeled walker. Once we saw that Joan was steady on her feet we said our goodbyes.

We watched the diminutive Joan, pushing her wagon, enter through the sliding glass doors and into the lobby.

We had taken Joan out to dinner at her favorite restaurant, the Red Lobster, where she can eat those heavenly cheesy garlic biscuits which she loves. We are grateful that Joan still enjoys being taken out for meals, as she still likes to eat. She is in relatively good health, still has a sharp wit and her memory for the past is impeccable.

My husband brought Joan to Arizona to live four years ago. It was a difficult transition. A previously independent woman, Joan once owned her own Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Store. She made a reputation for herself for her highly sought-after custom made ice cream cakes and pies.

Joan no longer drives and my husband has become her private chauffer. He escorts Joan to doctor appointments, grocery shopping and shopping for clothes, one of Joan’s passions. She also has a passion for Bingo, which she plays three times a week.

We dine with Joan and her two lady friends once or twice a week in the Fairwinds’ dining room. Between Joan and her two friends they have 277 years which, of course, are packed with many lifelong memories. It is nice to hear about their respective lives.

Each time I sit in the dining room listening to her and her friends, I wonder if I will have the passion for the things I love now. Further, I wonder if those in my cohort, the Baby Boomer Generation, will be able to gracefully accept the reality that we will have to give up our car keys, the fact that ill health might claim our mobility, or the fact that food will taste differently to us because of our changing taste buds.

The Greatest Generation (as coined by Tom Brokow) truly is a unique cohort, comprised of WWII veterans, retirees from long-term jobs and, generally, long-term marriages. They have so many interesting memories which can and should be shared with my generation. Someone once said “Growing old is not for sissies.” I’ve learned that this is partly true. For it takes a great deal of stamina and persistence, as well as a high dose of positivity, to maneuver through one’s later years. Spending time with Joan and her friends at Fairwinds has given me a glimpse into my future. And, I realize now, that it is not the number of years that make us old, it is how we weather the journey of life. This I’ve learned.