I woke up in the middle of the night last night in a panic. I wasn’t sure I remembered my social security number, Rosellen’s as well. Where would I be able to find documents that contained the numbers? Were they on the 1099 forms that came last week from the IRS? First thing in the morning I would have to write them down and put them in a prominent place so that whoever drew the short lot on overseeing our business after our deaths wouldn’t be hampered by their absence.
Now you need to know that I have an almost freakish ability to remember numbers. Last week we had to replace our compromised credit cards, and it only took a few glances to imprint the new numbers on my brain. So, this late-night panic attack was about something else. In the light of day those social security numbers were clear and accessible. The anxiety about them was a place holder for all the more generalized concerns about diminishing capacities and the decisions that would have to be made, preferably before they became evident.
Rosellen and I will both be 85 this year, but as far as I can tell we haven’t lost too many marbles. Rosellen searches for words here and there and complains about the disappearance of the fiction muse. I occasionally enter a room and realize I have forgotten why I’m there. It takes me a few beats longer than in the past to reorient myself. It’s not pretty to watch me walk down the street, even worse to observe me do battle with a flight of stairs, but for some strange reason, my driving seems to have improved, rather than eroded. (At this point, one is supposed to say “Pooh Pooh,” as if spitting over one’s shoulder to ward off the evil eye.) As I’m writing, Rosellen is in the other room, meeting online with her graduate writing students, to whom she is imparting the same quality of wisdom and craft that hundreds of students have benefitted from in the past.
So, what’s the problem? I’m pretty sure most of you reading this have faced the challenges of dealing with aging parents, are dealing with those challenges right now, or have them to look forward to in the future. Rosellen and I are those parents. So far, we have made things relatively easy for our daughters, who have not had to make emergency flights to Chicago to deal with frequent crises, as Rosellen and her brothers had to do for her parents in Florida or I for my parents in New York. I have reason to believe that they continue to find our phone and zoom conversations and our occasional times together diverting, rather than burdensome.
But here I have to repeat the wisdom our son-in-law Ben shared from the words of people he encountered during his hospice chaplaincy training. “ Everything was fine…..until it wasn’t.” We’re still waiting for the second part of that sentence to reveal itself. In the meantime, we are watching friends and family taking realistic steps to prepare for that “after.” Some of them are still enjoying the same relatively good health but are preparing to abandon houses and apartments they love as much as we do ours. What are we waiting for?
We were late in arranging burial plots too. It’s a pretty obvious form of denial but watching others in motion has begun to stir us out of our lethargy. Much as it makes us cringe, we’re beginning to plan to visit various retirement communities and get ourselves on some lists, recognizing that whenever we decide we’re ready to make a move, the institutions we might be interested in will not necessarily be ready to accommodate us without some prior commitment on our part.
The fantasy remains that none of this will prove to be necessary, that somehow our final chapters can be written right here in the apartment we love where we can watch the sunrise over the lake and the sunset over the areas facing west, where we are surrounded by the books and objects that are warm reminders of our history together. I know it’s soon going to be someone else’s turn to glory in those sunrises and sunsets, but as I water our jungle of plants, I’m hoping for a little more time.
So, get ready, our sons and daughters, if you haven’t been down this road with us already, it’s sure to be coming soon to a theater near you.