Here’s a little history lesson – and then I’ll get personal. In January or February of each year, the President of the United States gives a State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. Did you know this address is mandated by the Constitution, and it is considered a duty of the President to do this? In this message, the President is supposed to talk about important issues facing America as well as offer ideas for solving the nation’s problems. This directive from our founding fathers intrigues me. Clearly, it speaks to the importance of taking inventory in life. Since the concept seems equally useful for individuals, I offer my personal state of the union address (SOTU) now.
As a 68-year-old woman here are the issues facing me.
- I am suffering from little-piece-of-paper syndrome.
- My body seems to be holding up ok, but my 34-year-old-house, not so much.
- I can’t keep up with everything I need to keep up with.
- Death has started to visit my friends.
- In the face of these struggles, gratitude comes to mind. Thank God for my loved ones who help put life in perspective.
Issue #1: I am suffering from little-piece-of paper syndrome.
I have always written notes to myself for things I need to remember. I don’t claim to have dementia just the natural aging process, but the older I get, the more little notes I need to write. These little scraps of paper cover the kitchen counter and my bedroom dresser plus they are taped to my bathroom mirror, computer screen, and to my car’s dashboard. If it’s really important? I hang it on a 12-inch piece of tape in the kitchen doorway to hit me in the face when I enter. I even have a file folder called, “Little Pieces of Paper.” It’s ridiculous and it’s overwhelming. Are my cognitive skills slipping?
Issue #2: My body seems to be holding up ok, but my 34-year-old-house, not so much.
I have needed major home repairs every year for the last four years. This year I’m replacing the wood siding on two out of four exterior walls of the house. The expense is shocking, but equally difficult is finding competent people not only to bid the work but to actually come out to do the work after I sign on the dotted line. As I complain about this to my son, his response is the same every time: I should sell this place and move elsewhere. Is he implying a newer house or a residence for older people?
Issue #3: I can’t keep up with everything.
Beyond email, which is a 24/7/365 problem, there is the issue of snail mail. I have long ago stopped getting paper statements from companies that get paid automatically via credit card or bank debit, but statements from credit card companies, banks, financial institutions, health, life, and home insurance companies litter my life. Add to that letters of solicitation from charities I support, magazines from AARP and AAA, renewal notices for my auto license, my theater subscription, my safe deposit box, and the like, and I am swamped. Remind me of an upcoming wedding to buy a gift for or those miserable but annual tax returns to file, and I am flipping out. Are we living in an increasingly complex world, or am I falling behind because I am an exhausted old lady?
Issue #4: Death has started to visit my friends.
I have gone through lots of stages in my thoughts of death. I spent some time as a child being terrified. Then I had kids and made a deal with God: I would be ok with dying if He/She would just let my kids be alive and well. Then I watched my mom die in cancer pain and watched my dad die of old age. In both cases, I learned there are things worse than death. I will miss the healthy, vibrant version of them every day of my life, but that version was no longer an option.
My sister-in-law just died at the age of 72. She had reached the stage of “no options” and explained that fact to her kids. She instructed them to have a funeral for her, throw dirt on her, have a celebration of her life, and then go on and live their own. Her courage and strength in the face of death help me to get more comfortable with the thought of death.
Issue #5: Thank God for my loved ones who help put life in perspective.
2019 was a big year for our family. My oldest grandchild, Tillie, became a Bat Mitzvah, and my son and his lovely girlfriend got engaged. This kind of news went right into the annual Christmas letter. But equally important – or maybe more important – are all the lesser occasions that we shared togetherness. Before the coronavirus, it was the grandkids’ band concerts, soccer games, and the like. It was family dinners and holidays together. Post coronavirus, it’s Zoom meetings, FaceTime chats, drive-by parades for birthday celebrations, and standing together outside – and six feet apart – to converse. It’s being emotionally close in spite of being physically apart.
All ten grandkids have taught me things this year, but let me mention the youngest and the oldest:
- Baby Jude is newly three-years-old. He and his parents love the Beatles. Currently, he pretends to be John Lennon (and allows me to be Paul De-Cart-Me) as he sings “All You Need Is Love” on a continuous loop during our Zoom time together. His voice is as sweet as the song’s lesson.
- My Tillie is newly 14-years-old, and in the last few months, she has surpassed me in height. Before the coronavirus, as I stretched to place a kiss on the top of her head, I ached. She is a graphic reminder that the kids are growing up, that time is marching on.
As I review the five issues in my SOTU, I notice a pattern. Each one ends with some awareness of aging. For months now, I’ve had one foot in the grave! The coronavirus – with its very real threat to my age group – is a much-needed reminder to be fully alive while I still have the chance. Little pieces of paper and home repairs be damned!
With this new understanding, I resolve to pluck that one foot out of the grave and keep it moving forward, promising a full report in next year’s SOTU!
Looking for things to do while sheltering-in-place? Read a good book! Check out the new book review section of my website for suggestions.
Jude and Marmel, in the good old days, before Coronavirus