In what has become our annual tradition, my husband and I left our home in SW Ontario in late fall and headed for Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where we spend our winters. Arriving in early December, 2019 we were just in time to plan our yearly Christmas Day dinner with our Winter Texan friends. When the day arrived, ten other seventy-something adults were seated in a large circle on our deck rejoicing in being together again after a six month hiatus. Over appetizers and glasses of Christmas cheer, we got re-acquainted and caught up with each other’s lives, as we always do. The conversation naturally turned to discussion about who was still expected to arrive and then, drifted more morosely, to those who would not return. “Can you believe it?” Jerry asked, “Bill passed away over the summer. It seems like we lose a few more every year.” Judy, in a sober tone, answered “well, we aren’t in the stage of life anymore where we’re having babies, are we?”
It’s unsettling to be reminded that those of us, in the retiree set, have reached the ages we never imagined we’d become. More than ever before, we’re constantly reminded that time is not on our side. There’s far less of it left than what we’ve already lived, and while active, fit and healthy, we are unwitting participants in the life game of Russian Roulette.
I thought back to the “old timers” who had lived here during the first years we made this our winter home. Little by little they had moved on; some returned to their home states permanently, too frail to continue travelling. Others just didn’t come back the following season. Sometimes we learned they had passed away, but other times we never knew what had happened to them. As the years moved on, we found ourselves in the cohort who had lived here for more than ten years, not yet precisely ‘old timers,’ but definitely on the cusp of that stage. In a winter paradise, where everyone is a senior citizen and is busy having fun, it’s easy to forget that we’re also aging.
But this Christmas, things were different for me; I was very much aware that I was aging. After returning to Ontario in spring 2019, I was confronted with an unpleasant reality: my mother, who had just turned ninety, was nearing the end of her life. She passed away a few months later, after a two year illness. Her circle of life, a wheel I thought I’d been bravely travelling on with her, made its final spin and brought me to my knees. Although it was a relief to see her suffering end, the reality of her absence filled my soul. Six weeks later her only surviving sibling, her eldest sister, died. My aunt was very dear to me; I was abruptly unmoored from my two life anchors. Four weeks passed and brought me, uninvited, my seventieth birthday. My emotional tank was empty. I had no reserves left with which to weather this final assault. My mortality weighed heavily on my shoulders.