What’s Brilliant About My 95 Year-Old Mother
We could all learn a thing or two from my mother. (In the photo, she’s on the right.)
There are plenty of reasons to become discouraged as we age, what with failing-falling body parts, and the simple fact that the longer we live, the more death we witness. The aging process certainly has its challenges. It can be daunting.
But my mother seems to roll with it. She comes to terms with what life hands her. Accepting change is possibly her #1 brilliance. She makes peace with what is.
Here are some other ways she inspires everyone who knows her.
Be a Valuable Family Member
Mom lives with my sister, her husband, and their adopted son. After my sister’s children were grown, she met her third husband, and they took in a member of his family, a young boy whose drug-addicted mother couldn’t care for him.
Having Mom in the household when their son was young made things easier. She watched over him often. Mom supported their decision to adopt him, and made sure she she contributed to his well-being. She gave hands-on assistance. He’s now a freshman in high school, and a star athlete.
Look Forward and Say Yes Often
As a farm wife, she worked hard physically every single day. She raised five children—six counting the 18 year-old Bulgarian refugee who entered our already full to the brim household when I was in the sixth grade. Money was tight, too, but she and my father adjusted.
Mom raised a large garden in order to feed us, which of course required the help of every available pair of hands. She was a taskmaster, and when she called out, “Everybody get to the garden now,” we did exactly that. Walking leisurely to the garden was not an option.
Mom knew how to preserve produce in all the ways that farm wives do—by canning, freezing, and pickling. We also had a root cellar where potatoes, carrots, and squash could be stored for use through the winter. There were crocks of pickles parked in the middle of this cool cave, or around the edges.
When my dad needed her to drive the tractor for baling hay, she said yes. When there was an abundance of milk from grandpa’s cow, she churned butter or made potato soup (with a milk base), or pudding (which also required plenty of milk). Most weeks, she baked seven loaves of homemade bread, plus any needed hamburger or hot dog buns, cinnamon rolls, and the like. She did everything required to keep a thriving family on its feet using the fewest pennies possible.
But after Dad died, she changed in many ways. She let go of what she had always done, how she had always been, and shifted her attention forward. She enjoyed the freedom of having no one to take care of, no one to answer to, no one to feed. For the first time in her life, she relaxed and did as she pleased. It was a delight to watch her decide how to spend her time.
Now, at age 95, every day is worthy of enthusiasm, worth looking forward to, no matter how simple the events. As a member of my sister’s family, Mom cleans, does laundry, and walks the dog. She reads large print books, makes quilts, and does needlework. She has a smartphone and talks to people, but doesn’t text, or google anything.
Most of her closest friends have died. Although both of her sons died fairly young, at 50 and 65 years old, she didn’t get discouraged about life or become chronically lonely or sad. She came to accept their deaths. She enjoys the family members who remain, and she makes new friends to replace those who have passed on.
All in all, she figures that being surrounded by people who love her (she loves them right back) is a darn good reason to wake up every morning. For her, being smack dab in the middle of a bustling household is a great reason to look forward to the next moment, the next day, the next year. She doesn’t like to nap during a family gathering because she might miss something!
Stay a While
Mom is known for purchasing one-way tickets for travel.
She came to visit me in December of 2019 and stayed through Spring, almost four months. Most of my friends wilted at the thought of having anyone visit them for months, let alone their mother. But because I know she likes to stay a while, I invited her to do exactly that, and go home when she felt like it. There was no doubt in my mind that her long visit would be delightful because we’d done it before. This was the second time she had arrived on my doorstep for an extended stay.
Welcoming her for four months allowed me to take her on trips. We drove to the coast side of North Carolina for a visit with her youngest (and only remaining) sibling, her sister. They talked for hours, took naps, and ate at restaurants so they didn’t have to cook.
We traveled on to Washington, DC “to see flowers,” a favorite pastime of Mom’s, in this case the cherry blossoms in full bloom at the tidal basin. We spent our days sight-seeing by train all over DC. She had never seen America’s most famous residence, the White House, up close and personal. She really took that in. She stood in front of it for a long time.
Let Yourself Be Tickled by Human Nature
As George Bernard Shaw says, “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”
Mom takes this idea to heart. She laughs out loud often, and with her whole body. In the photo at the top of the blog, Mom is clearly enjoying a side joke with her friend Beth at a quilt show while having their photo taken. They had put many stitches on these pieces of art!
Many times, her sense of humor carries her. At the start of her four month stay with me mentioned previously, she was excited about having her own room, complete with a giant closet and a great view of the neighborhood where I lived.
But an unforeseen event changed all that.
My housemate had moved out prior to her arrival. A few days after Mom had settled comfortably into her accommodations, he called. Could he please—pretty please—move back in? His girlfriend had tossed him out and he had nowhere to go.
Well. There you have it. Best laid plans.
Mom had questions about this guy and what had happened. We didn’t know the answers, so we made some up. Our version of him being thrown out by his girlfriend was probably more entertaining than the real one.
At any rate, Mom and I adjusted. There was only one place for her to sleep comfortably, and that was with me in my king sized bed. It’s not what either of us had planned, but it worked. Our sleeping hours differed, and neither of us snore.
However, one night we got into bed at the same hour and began to chat. We got the giggles about the play we’d just seen in Asheville. We joked about our lack of ability to understand certain family members. We chuckled about aging. Our playful questioning/storytelling lasted into the wee hours. The short of it is that there are things your Quaker mother will say or do in her nineties that she would never have said or done in her fifties or sixties.
This slumber party with my mother is something I’ll hold dear forever. In all our years, we had never done anything like that, just the two of us.
Everyone Is Family
She believes in the goodness of people. She is kind to strangers. Kindness is her default.
When shopping, she treats the people who help her as if they are her daughter or son, no matter their age. A store associate who is 75 years old could still be her offspring! She makes it clear that she loves them and appreciates them.
She calls young women “honey” and looks into their eyes to thank them for finding an item she needs. They melt. Some of them, I’m sure, wish she was their very own grandma.
Do What You Can Do and Ask for Help with All the Rest
She doesn’t get stressed about what she doesn’t know how to do, she just asks for help.
At the airport she pays someone to drive her on a whiz-about-cart that speeds passengers to the next gate, not because she can’t walk there herself, but because without assistance she’d soon be lost and confused. She would never find her next flight.
It makes her happy to ask for help and get it. She tells me stories about her young friends (50-70 years old) who drive her wherever she needs to go. After shopping’s done, Mom buys them lunch and a full tank of gas. Everybody’s happy.
Being around Mom is a reminder of these words from novelist Edith Wharton: “… one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
Be well, everyone. Keep on shining.