I have, not surprisingly, been thinking a lot about my grandmother since she died on New Year's Day. And thoughts about my grandmother, who was 100 years old, lead inevitably to thoughts about the aging process. Yesterday I spent some time with someone who asked about her, and whether she had any kind of life of faith.
My answer? "I have no idea."
I mentioned in a comment to someone else's blog that I've concluded there's a recessive gene in my family that's popped up to express itself in me. A Pilgrim ancestor, one of those who braved the Mayflower voyage only to die two months later on the hard winter soil of what we call Massachusetts. A Methodist bishop, whom my grandfather once described as "the most tedious man" he had ever encountered. And me. Not a promising lineage.
In my family, people don't talk much about religion or faith or spirituality or anything else connected thereto. People don't go to church. At one point in her life (several decades ago!), my grandmother became great friends with a woman who had written extensively about Buddhism. Whether my grandmother herself ever practiced meditation or otherwise engaged herself with Buddhism, I have no idea. She would have considered religious matters to be of an extremely personal nature, and would have been reluctant to say anything which might have been construed as an imposition on others.
But I wish she had. What I would give to know whether and, if so, how, her thoughts turned to God, or whatever might have meant God to her, in that last decade of her life, as her brilliant mind became increasingly trapped in the silence that deafness and blindness bring. Of course, I would like to know her views on everything she considered in those last years, and they are all lost to me.
I would particularly like to know what her advice would have been on how to prepare for very, very old age. As we watch our elderly family and friends, my own generation of friends and I are making an endless series of mental notes, most of them on what not to do. Last night, in response to a situation in which one of my friends had been sucked into providing almost daily care for an aging friend of hers over a long three month period, we concluded that we need to remember not to impose ourselves on others when we become dependent and needy and lonely. It's probably an easy trap to fall into, so advance planning is required.
My grandmother herself never sold her house, which became a haven for various members of her family whenever a temporary place to live was required, especially during marital separations. But now it sits there, dilapidated and lost, and needs to be dealt with. Advance planning would have been a good thing. At some point around the age of seventy, you need to look fearlessly into the future and acknowledge that whether you have one year left or thirty, a two-story house will soon be beyond your capacity to manage.
Property. Friends. Family. Faith. They are all as challenging at the end of adult life as they are at the beginning. But are they as absorbing? I don't know. And the only person who might have told me is gone.