How you feel when all your friends are octogenerians
My friends are all much older than I am, several of them in their 80s and in declining health. The odds of us all being together next Christmas are decreasing every day. Sad thought.
Thinking about impending loss puts a damper on my Christmas spirit, but I can’t seem to stop.
No one wants to talk about it. Death can be a very sad topic, especially during the holidays when everything is merry and bright. Who wants to utter words of gloom and doom when all around you it’s about sweets and treats, carols and cards?
You might think I’m depressed. (I’m not.) You may believe I’m afraid of getting older and being “diminished” and depleted. (Not really.) You can even assume that I’m some sniveling, weak, woman who fears the future. (You’d be totally wrong.)
But I AM a woman who faces reality, even when that reality makes me a bit fearful.
Christmas fear vs. Christmas cheer
It’s not exactly Christmas fear, but it’s not Christmas cheer either. The feeling I have is of a desperate need to enjoy this holiday — and every day that I have with my friends — because our days are numbered.
Granted, I may be the youngest of our group, but I may be the first to go. I could get hit by a careening car while I walk across the street. I could have a brain aneurysm like my beloved aunt who died at the age of 58. I could be diagnosed with a rapidly progressing disease and be dead by the end of next year. But the odds of that are far, far less than the odds of something happening to one of my octogenarian friends.
My friends are intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, stylish women who prove that getting older does NOT mean that you stop living. They’re active participants in civic organizations, caretakers of husbands, leaders in the community, lovers of grandchildren, and women unafraid to travel anywhere in the world. High-achievers, organizers, and go-getters, they don’t stop “DOING” because they’ve had lots of birthdays.
But the aging process is slowing them down and causing me to reflect on what lies ahead.
An ode to female friendship
Our friendship started thirty years ago. We were brought together by our teaching ability, all of us employed at a community college in the Midwest. After the lead English instructor interviewed me for a job, she turned to her best friend, at that time the lead history instructor, and said, “This is going to work out just fine.”
“Just fine” was an understatement of magnificent proportion.
Little did I know after that first interview that this extraordinary woman would become my mentor, confidant, co-conspirator, colleague, and friend, a woman I am closer to than my own mother. Not many people have the person who hired them become an integral part of their life, but I was blessed. All these years, she has supported and nurtured me until I blossomed into who I am today.
And it was not just her. In time, on that small college campus, women formed bonds of lasting friendship with each other as we worked in shared offices, team-taught in classrooms, and ate at the common lunch table. I could never have guessed that within a few years, six women would form a circle of friends who loved each other unconditionally.
Thirty years later, we’re still laughing, dancing, and holding hands as we journey through life.
We’ve traveled the world together. A desire to experience local culture pushed us into a Turkish bath in Istanbul where we stripped naked, laid on a hot stone floor, and were scrubbed raw by intimidating, no-nonsense female attendants. We have skinny-dipped in the Aegean Sea, cried over foreign films, and experienced facials, make-overs, manicures and pedicures as a group. When we traveled to conferences, we would stay four to a room, much to the amazement of other colleagues. “You mean, you LIKE the people you work with that much?” they asked incredulously.
Together, we have faced deaths of loved ones, divorce, marriage, the terminal illness of one of our circle, a cancer diagnosis, chemo-treatments, the birth of countless grandchildren, and the marriage of a few older grandkids. We have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, shared triumphs and defeat. We’ve eaten hundreds of meals in dozens of places around the world.
Time changes all things
We are fewer now than we were then. One of us is gone, succumbing to the horrible, wasting-away of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
One of us has moved to the far West coast, living near children and grandchildren in Southern California.
As I write, I am watching another one of these friends disappear before my eyes.
She can’t remember anything. She doesn’t eat. She’s lost 60 pounds over the last two years without trying. When I reminded her about our Christmas party, for the third time — AFTER sending her a written invitation — she said, “Well, I didn’t know about that!” Her sister was sitting right next to her when I reminded her, and the sister sternly reprimanded me, “You need to tell ME. She won’t remember, but I’ll make sure she gets there.”
I began to see just how bad her memory loss was. The realization was painful.
My dearest friend, the one who fills so many roles there’s not even a word that describes my relationship to her, is suffering from Parkinson’s and heart disease. She never lets it slow her down and is always doing good deeds for others. She doesn’t talk about her health, saying she hates it when a party becomes “an organ recital” where everyone talks about infirmities of body parts. But it’s obvious that her physical state is changing.
Recently, she asked me to be her partner in a short dramatic presentation for a birthday gathering. She wanted to perform a very abridged version of scenes from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, driving home the point that we should be human beings who did appreciate life, “while they lived it — every, every minute.” That we should not die before sighing,
“Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
Poignant. Bittersweet. But it reminded me to treasure my friends and the richness of our shared history.
A foreshadowing of sadness infiltrates my Christmas spirit this year. The remarkable love of my female friends will always be with me, but my friends won’t.
I intend to celebrate them NOW — with everything I’ve got — not thinking of how the holidays might someday feel without them.
Melissa Gouty has been blessed to have friends who taught, encouraged, loved, and shared their acquired wisdom with her, the “baby” of the group. They joke that they specifically chose her to be the “young” friend so she can help them in their old age, drive them to doctor’s appointments, and remind them of how wonderful they are — in case they forget. Follow her at LiteratureLust.com.
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