The Spirit of Aging is Love

A young couple moved into our rural coastal neighborhood, and I wondered which older couple would adopt them. There is always one older couple that a younger couple depends on. This is a common relationship in our rural neighbourhood.

People reach out to each other. When we are away from home, we create a new home. Missing grandparents, missing parents, missing grandchildren. Our arms stretch out, like branches of trees or the earth saving lichen and fungus, or the synapses from our brain cells, always reaching out.

We are looking for life to touch, to be touched by. We live in common with others, we depend on each other, we life symbiotically.

I wondered which older couple in our neighbourhood would take this new couple under their wings. Sometimes an older couple takes in a single woman and includes her in their plans. Sometimes one half of a dysfunctional marriage finds a warm presence in the home of an an older couple, the quiet nods and offers of vegetables acknowledged as understanding and support.  

The younger person or young couple will find a warm welcome anytime they turn up at the door. They will be ushered in, offered a coffee and some fresh buns or cookies. They will turn to the older couple for advice on roofing, gardening or finding a plumber. They will relax their shoulders and feel cared for, just as if they have loving parents or grandparents taking care of them.

 As the relationship grows the younger person will find ways they can be useful to the older mentors. They might bring in the mail, or clear the snow, but what they receive is invaluable unconditional love with no commentary. They will be the one who notices when the older person is getting colder, weaker or more forgetful. They will know before the older person’s own kin.

We all have our adopted grandparents that we love. We drop by with flowers or a book that they might like. We find them sitting in a quiet armchair resting their tired bodies, and when they see us, their eyes lit up. They rise up when we enter. Rise up to fill the kettle. Rise up to butter a muffin. They chat with us, fill the time with chatter of local news, talk of the weather.

Occasionally the older person may drop a pearl into the conversation. They flew a plane. They worked in Victoria Hospital in Montreal in the 1920’s and went to an all-night party. They ran a hospital ward while caring for three children and their elderly father. But they don’t talk about their past that much. They offer warmth and comfort, they listen and laugh. They become a friend. They don’t have to do much. Just be glad to see you.

I have loved and appreciated a selection of older women over the years. When we moved into our old house, we had a 98-year-old neighbour that lived right next door. I brought her the mail and she would make a coffee on her ancient stove, scrummage about for ancient cookies, prop her twisted back on a selection of small pillows, and then lean back and enjoy a coffee with me. With a house full of children and chaos across the driveway, I treasured these peaceful moments. When she died at 100 years, I was sad to lose a friend.

There is no better company than an elderly person.  My friend had good hearing and good eyesight and could tell if I was sad or troubled right away. I was interested in her opinions, her past, her ideas. At one point I recognized that my friend had been an ‘old woman’ for my entire life span. She had lived forty years as a single older woman. I was fascinated with her strength and good temper. Just sitting and talking to her put everything into perspective.

I am losing a valuable woman right now, another nurse. Some of the best people are nurses. She is bravely and stoically managing a spell in the hospital now, but I fear she won’t be able to return to her home. Every time I look at her house, I feel the loss. Before when I looked at her house, I would think to myself, ‘I’ll call her tonight, and we’ll have a good gab”. Or I need to tell her about that eagle that I saw. Her house was alive with her, and now when I see it, I know it is empty.

I can tell you that I visit her at the hospital as often as I can. I squeeze her shoulder and sigh with her. I laugh at the absurdity of life with her. If she in not allowed to go home I will not desert her, I will bring flowers and children and books to cheer her at the hospital.

Our new neighbours moved in across the road from us. They are young but just old enough not to feel young. They are in the youngest stages of aging. Barely a few wrinkles, their life stretches out in front of them.   

I wondered who they would choose as their adopted ‘grandparents’. Some of our elderly neighbours have a full dance card of adopted ‘children’.  Who would the young couple turn to?  They are not from here, just like us, and one works at the university.

We brought them a loaf of homemade bread. We connected them to the man who can clear their snow in the winter. We sent over a full dinner when they were both sick. Then I realized with a sudden flash that my husband and I were the older couple now!

We are old enough to have stories in our past that they would never know or guess. We are old enough to know that just being here across the road is a comfort. We look at their fresh faces and feel protective and caring. Just by existing we are enough.

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