I hear it all the time. People telling me they don’t want to live to an age where they are a shadow of their former selves. If they aren’t in relatively full charge of their physical abilities, they’d prefer not to be there at all.
    Everyone obviously has the right to their opinion regarding old age, but when I hear those words, I think…. if only they had met my mother.
    She died last weekend at the ripe age of 90, and she had no interest or desire to leave this world. Yet she was the epitome of what people talk about when they say they don’t want to live that way.
    Diagnosed with emphysema (she smoked, but quit 60 years ago), she has had an oxygen tube in her nose 24 hours a day for over six years. She started using a walker six years ago and a wheelchair two years ago. She hasn’t gone outside, except for an assisted ride to a doctor’s appointment, for at least four years.
    But my goodness, did she ever love life.
    Confined for the last two years to what was basically a hospital room in her retirement home, she stopped reading books and watching television because it was too difficult to focus. She would wake up, get dressed, move to her wheelchair next to her bed, and sit staring into space.
    This remarkable woman, who had enormous energy throughout her life, was running on nearly empty. This glamorous woman, who always exuded elegance and style, was indeed a shadow of her former self. Her skin was thin, wrinkled, blotchy and bruised. Her eyes were tired, hair white, and breathing labored.
    Why would anyone want to live like that? Meet my mother.
    She died peacefully in her sleep, but had she been awake, she would have gone kicking and screaming. She was simply a fighter, and refused to give in to the ravages of age. One of my last images of her is walking into her room a week before she died, and she was doing leg lifts in her wheelchair, all by herself, determined to get stronger.
    She believed she could do it, even though she had no chance. She knew she was dying, but wanted to delay it as long as she could. Only recently had she stopped doing laps around the hallway in her walker. Nowhere to go, but everywhere to go.
    Why delay it? Many reasons, but I believe it was because she could still, despite everything, laugh and laugh and laugh.
    Maybe it’s hard to imagine, but picture this frail woman simply rocking with laughter. Tired eyes dancing, emaciated body shaking with unabated joy at something she said or something somebody else said. She just loved to laugh, and wanted to laugh again and again.
    And she wanted to hear about her family. My sisters and I would give her the latest gossip, and she would listen with wide-eyed wonder. She’d ask questions, pass judgment, give advice, and generally show more interest in our lives and her grandchildren’s lives than anyone in the world.
    I know, I know. She was lucky to have a family that cared so much for her, lucky to have 95% of her mental awareness, and certainly lucky to be relatively pain-free.
    Maybe that would have changed the equation. Maybe she wouldn’t have laughed so much if she didn’t have her family. Maybe she wouldn’t have been doing exercises if she was in pain.
    I think she would. She would have found someone else to laugh with, and she would have been doing leg lifts or some other exercise in the hopes it would ease the pain. She wanted to live, because she knew it wouldn’t last forever.
    She was, and is, an inspiration to me, my family, her friends, and the staff that took care of her. I don’t know if I’ll reach the age of 90, but if I do, I want to be like my mother.
    I want to go out laughing, just like she did.








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