My mother said one of the saddest things today, and something that I understand very well.
As usual, she was questioning why all of her siblings are dead and she is still alive. My aunt Barb, the writer in the family, once wrote a poem, as the siblings started to die. She figured someone would finish it after the last one died. You can read it here.
Barb was the most recent to die, and she died in 2008, so my mother has been without any of her siblings for five years. They were a close family, all ten of them.
(This was the only photo that was taken of the entire family, since by the time my mother came along, the older ones were out of the house. My mother was #7 in the list...and that's her in the dark jacket next to my aunt Marge, with the scarf around her neck and Barb on her other side. I'm not sure the date of this photo, but somewhere around 1940, I think.)
This morning, when asking why she was still alive when all her siblings are gone, my mother said she was never lonely at Atria, but that she missed her siblings. That there was nobody who "remembers when...." It made me feel so sad for her. That's probably the biggest sadness of living a long life, if you live it fairly healthy, as my mother is. There is nobody who "remembers" your past. There is nobody to giggle with about funny things that happened when you were children. It's like your past dies, but you are still alive.
I think the reason Walt and I ended up having five children was because I was so jealous of how close my mother and all of her siblings were. Despite the fact that my father considered them all "hicks," and resisted family get togethers, we did see the family two or three times a year. I watched how close my mother was to her sisters, especially the ones who were closest to her in age. Marge was 2 years older, Barb 4 years younger and Betsy, on Marge's other side in the photo, was 2 years older than Marge (there was a son, Paul, between my mother and Barb in the list). I wanted our kids to have the kind of sibling relationships that my mother did (in that, I think, we have probably succeeded...one of my favoritest things is watching Jeri, Ned and Tom whenever they are together).
Having someone who "remembers when" is so important. I watch Walt and his brother and sister and I listen to them reminiscing about things that happened when they were children and I'm jealous.
I only had one sister, who died when she was 24. Before her death, we were never close. We were oil and water and it was only the very last time I saw her, a week before she was murdered, when we had such a fun dinner together, that I thought that maybe now that we were adults, we might finally get to be friends. But that never happened.
I had about 32 cousins, but because I rarely saw my aunts and uncles, I was only friends with a few of them. There was Shirley, Betsy's daughter, who died of lung cancer several years ago. There was Kathy, the third in our triumverate for Cousins Day, who died of COPD two years ago, and there was Peach. I was closest to Peach throughout my whole life and was the maid of honor at her wedding and godmother to her first child. Then she and her husband moved away for several years. They eventually moved back here and I was pleased when Walt and I moved to Davis because it was only a few miles from Peach and Bob. But Peach had no interest in resuming our friendship, so it was more than ten years after we moved here before I saw her. She told me later that because I had young children and she found raising young children an unpleasant time in her life, she didn't want to be around me at that time because it brought back bad memories.
Our uncle Paul died in 1985. He had been a sculptor of very weird monster statues that he gave to many people in the family.
He left a lot of statues behind and his girlfriend wanted them out of her house, so I volunteered to go down and pick up a box full of statues that I would bring home and anybody who wanted one could pick them up from me. When I got the statues, I invited Peach and Bob to come to dinner and take their pick. I cannot tell you what a wonderful evening that was. We talked and laughed about things that had happened throughout our lives (and, since Bob came into her life when she was in junior high school, he remembered most of the things we talked about too). It was so refreshing -- as W. S. Gilbert writes, "like six months at the seaside."
Fortunately, we reactivated our relationship, which has continued to this day, though with her now living in Iowa and not being very good at written communication, I feel a gulf again...but I'll be in Iowa next year to help them renew their marriage vows, and that will be very nice.
So I identify with my mother when she thinks sadly about having nobody to share her memories with. I would be willing to bet there are an awful lot of residents at Atria who are in the same situation.
When I see articles about prolonging life or people who have lived well into their 100s, I am not impressed. I feel very sorry for them. I know how lonely that can be.