Caring for a parent, conversations, Death & Dying, Dementia, mother daughter relationship, Self-care

When I Am Old

I lie on my double high airbed in my tent with rug and writing table, looking out the back window over the clear blue-green water of Lake Crescent, the fragrant air passing through the screened openings.


And I know.

Whenever I want, I jump in my aged car that unbelievably keeps on humming and go wherever I want. I hike on my strong legs with my strong heart beating true behind healthy lungs. Places like Lena Lake, Mt. St. Helens, Spray Park, and this week’s adventure to Indian Henry’s.


And I know.

I’m sitting on my deck this morning, my clear, corrected-vision eyes taking in the valley-mountain view I get to see everyday, writing this blog post. My pretty good ears listen to the cows, the distant train whistle, the cooing doves. I monitor the sun coming up behind the trees, on it’s way to much too warm today. I breathe the fresh air (a little smoky from far away wild fires). I breathe gratitude.

And I know.

I know these days are finite. I know someday I will be old, confined to a single over-heated room in a facility where the halls smell of cat pee—perhaps one of them mine, because she is going to live forever—and probably human pee. I will be completely dependent on strangers, and maybe my daughter if I am really lucky.

I know I will long for these days of what will surely feel in retrospect like my youth. And I will feel like I am in a certain kind of hell. A hell reserved for good people whose only crime is living too long.

I lie in my tent home, tears seeping from my eyes at the unfairness of it all.

Do I wish for a dementia that blocks the memory of these beautiful days when they are long gone? Or do I hope to remember them? I don’t get to choose; it will be one or the other. If I remember them, I want to  be able to say, “You lived them well, my friend. You lived them well.” If my brain forgets, I can know today they will live in my heart and my soul.

And I want more than just to remember. I want it to be who I am—my essence—when I am no longer able to hike the hike, drive the drive, drink the nectar. I want to be that old woman who tells everyone, in monotonous demented repetition of story, about my adventures. I want my daughter to refuse to listen to my complaints about bowel function, the terrible food, how other people can’t remember shit, and to ask me instead about what I did with my one beautiful life that made me proud.

“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they never end; we’d sing and dance forever and a day… Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser, for in our hearts the dreams are still the same…” —sung here by Mary Hopkin (1968)

Yesterday I told my mother about my hike to Indian Henry’s in the Mt. Rainier National Park. She has been there, many long years ago. She remembered the steep climb, the river crossing, the cabin in the meadow of flowers with the glorious mountain rising behind it. At least she thought she did. Maybe it was her soul remembering. She wept when I described it. “Oh, my dear daughter,” she whispered, “I’m so glad you got to see it.”

I need to ask her more often about her adventures. I need only to listen without comment to her daily litany of complaints and then move her quickly on; she depends on me to redirect her. I have to believe she doesn’t want to dwell on her current misery, and I am letting her down when I let her. Are we, I wonder, afraid to remind our old that they were once young? If so, I think we are misguided. But most of them are not going to bring it up—perhaps afraid to be boorish, perhaps because they simply do not think of it.

We congratulate young parents on providing their children with good memories—and mine did. But perhaps most importantly what they are doing, is instilling in them the desire to go on making their own good memories for whatever time they are given on the earth—and mine did. I breathe gratitude.

This is the time to live these days well, dear Ones, whatever your age. We have varying notions of what good living is; but be sure, I implore you, that you know what it is that you love. And that you are doing it as much and as often as you can. These times will be gone in flash. I have written about this before; there cannot be too many reminders to myself, to you.

“…I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”  —Mary Oliver


11 thoughts on “When I Am Old”

    1. post. ( I must be tired or they moved the moved the send tab.) A more conscious way of being “in the world” is the perfect gift for ourselves and others. I’ll start doing better, too. I like the idea of savoring moments and, like you, sometimes just being alive in this world is enough to overcome me. I snipped a small, inch long piece off of a sub-alpine fir branch today. For me. I want to remember the smells and feels as well as the sights. I’ll bet that smell would bring back memories for your Mom, too.


      1. In the short time I’ve known you, it seems you are very good at mindfulness. But we have to maintain constant vigilance, right? So easy to get sucked into life’s necessities. Or what we think are necessary. My mom told me to breathe in the alpine air for her. I try to remember to notice whenever I’m at the mountain. It’s the best smell in the world.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you for this. I’m trying to write down my memories while I still have them. I grieve that I don’t have photographs of so much that has happened in my life (I was a great one for carefully putting the camera in the car, and then leaving it in the parking lot). I hope I can get my sons to read my memories back to me when I can’t any more – and at the age of 73 next week, the time is coming, I’m afraid. I’m glad you were able to capture some of your mother’s memories on tape, and I hope you are reading your transcripts back to her.


    1. My mom is back to recording her memories with a friend helping her. She told me a story today couched in not being able to remember it. 😉 My sister has been transcribing them, I haven’t read them. I fear she has been trying to get down the facts (and worrying that they aren’t right) and leaving out the emotion. It’s how she lived. Thank you for writing, Abbie. And for writing down your story.


  2. Glad I have an office door. This made me cry as this has been on my mind lately. Thank you for putting it in beautiful words. I hope I can find a way to do more of what my heart desires.


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