My husband and I returned from California last week after visiting my husband’s grandmother and celebrating her 95th birthday. She doesn’t like to tell anyone her age, so Nana I’m sorry for revealing that, but you should be proud of those 95 years! Her friend Edith, on the other hand, is proud to tell you she’s 99. Nana is the one on the left in the above picture. Edith is on the right.
I first met Edith at Nana’s 90th birthday celebration. Up until the year Nana turned 90, we had not visited her every year for her birthday, but after that life defining birthday we have been there every year to celebrate another year of life for Nana. And, since Edith’s birthday is two days after Nana’s, we celebrate Edith’s journey through the 90′s as well.
Edith is an amazing woman. At 99 she is still very involved in daily life. Until a few weeks ago, she still lived alone, which is quite an accomplishment for anyone. You can tell by the sparkle and clarity in her eyes that she loves being alive. She’s an avid reader and always has a novel going. She also watches the news and can talk about any current event that is occurring in the world. Her memory is sharp. I think it’s probably sharper than mine! I love sitting next to her at the birthday luncheon because I am intrigued with what she knows, what she’s seen in her lifetime, and how she views the world today. She doesn’t like to talk too much about past events. She really likes talking about what is happening in the here and now. She loves to tell me about the book she’s currently reading and she wants to know what I think about our president. Other than being a little hard of hearing and having to walk with a cane, she is in good health. She loves food, especially anything with sugar in it, and at the birthday luncheon this year she began her celebration with a gin and tonic. I marvel at this. I can’t drink a gin and tonic or I would be flat on my face! I love this woman. She is an inspiration to me. I want to be that sharp at 99!
Nana is different. Nana only seems to want to talk about the past. Years ago it was sweet to hear all the old stories, especially about my husband when he was a little boy, but after several days each time we visit of hearing the stories repeated over and over again I begin to want to hear about Nana’s current life. She doesn’t really want to talk about that. She wants to keep going back to the past when her husband was alive, when her children were younger, when the grandchildren were small and she took good care of them. She misses her husband who has been gone for almost 18 years. She doesn’t want him to be gone. His cologne is still on the bathroom shelf right where he left it. The house is waiting for him to walk back in and sit in his favorite chair. She misses him, but more than him I think she misses the way life used to be; When life was active and fun and she had a purpose to fulfill. She knew her role and she did her job well.
When I visit Nana’s home, it is stifling to me. Nothing changes. If something breaks, she doesn’t want to replace it because that’s what she had when her husband was alive. I have never seen anything quite like this before. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone so frozen in time. It seems her life stopped the day her husband’s life stopped. She still keeps her house the way her husband would want it kept. This bothers me. It makes me sad. She talks constantly about how lonely she is and I want to help her feel better. She has friends she sees weekly. She still plays bridge three days a week and she drives herself everywhere she needs or wants to go, but she is LONELY. I know this is a fear of mine, to be elderly and lonely, so the fact that she feels so lonely bothers me, deeply.
Each year that I visit Nana I leave needing to ponder why these two women, Nana and Edith, are so different and yet have similar circumstances. They have been friends for over fifty years. Their life paths have been very similar, yet Edith is excited to be alive, to see another day, to read another great book, while Nana seems to just exist for another day. In my desire to always find beauty in my experiences, I have been stumped by what the beauty could possibly be in Nana’s situation. She clearly doesn’t want to be here any more, but her body is outliving her desires. She seems to be suffering from the loneliness of a life that’s already been lived.
After a lot of mulling it over, talking to my husband about it, and asking my spirit to enlighten me, I have eventually begun to realize that this is a beautiful lesson for any of us who allow our thoughts to repeatedly, over and over again, review our past and stay in that comfort zone of when things felt good, OR stay in the misery of when things felt bad.
How many of us think yesterday’s thoughts today? How many of us want life to get better, yet we continue to rehash old feelings, old patterns, and old wounds that keep us reacting to current situations in old ways. From what I can tell, we all do this to some degree. Living in the moment, being current with what is happening today with a fresh attitude and a willingness to respond to our situations with clarity and spontaneity is a wonderful affirmation for many of us, but do we REALLY accomplish it? I struggled for many years in my life as I stayed stuck in anger, or sadness, or victimization. Eventually, over the years those struggles healed and I moved into a place of more gratitude and peacefulness, but from time to time I still find myself rehashing old wounds and feeling the slight sting from them. I don’t really want to, but they just pop up. I’m sure you can relate. Right?
So, this is what I am discovering about what Nana is teaching me, and she is such a profound teacher right now. She’s showing me what it looks like to live a life focused on the past, and that not living in my current situations emotionally can feel as stifling as Nana’s house. This is sobering to realize. How many thoughts have you had today that are warmed over thoughts and feelings of yesterday, or last year, or decades before today? In all honesty, most of my thoughts are from yesterday, some from last year, and a few from possibly a decade or two ago. The truth of this and how suffocating this really looks, because I have actually walked into the house of it, makes me want to be very aware of each thought, each precious thought, and then give some LIFE to my thoughts by making them new and exciting and current. Imagine how life could be for any of us who choose to actually experience life each day as a brand new individual day. What would we create for ourselves if the old patterns of warmed over thoughts stopped happening?
It is possible that Nana’s spirit has created a life lesson to learn what living in the past FEELS like. Perhaps it is her soul’s journey to want to live a physical experience of this so that her spirit can always remember how it feels to confine her thoughts with objects and thoughts from the past instead of the freedom that new thoughts could bring. And, maybe that is why she is still in her body and will stay in her body until her spirit feels complete with this experience of confining thoughts. I can only speculate on this, of course, but if it’s true, then It’s a powerful soul journey to take.
I am so grateful for Nana for being such a powerful teacher on this subject for me. I don’t know if I could ever have felt this lesson so deeply if I had not walked into it and spent some time listening to the ache of a life already lived. I am also so grateful for Edith for showing me the grace of what living in the present circumstances of my life can look and feel like. They are both an inspiration to me and both important on my journey as I continue to find the beauty in each new day.