I have an aunt who is ninety-six years old. She lives in Maryland, where I used to live. I wanted her to come out to Arizona with me, but she refused.
Every few days, she drives to Walmart to do her grocery shopping. I wish she wouldn’t. A friend of mine, who works at Walmart, texted me a few days ago. He said he saw her and she was “struggling.” I know it’s true. She’s generally in good health, but she has a bad knee and walking is difficult. She is ninety-six, after all. She gets around Walmart leaning on the pushcart. My friend helped her get the groceries into her cart, stood with her in the checkout line, and loaded her car. He offered to help her again, and gave her his phone number. I’m lucky and she’s lucky that a kind soul was, and is, so near. Thank you, dear Rick.
I wish she lived in a place with other people (she lives alone ) where her meals could be prepared for her. My brother and I talked yesterday (he lives in New York), and we’re going to try – again – to get her to consider another living arrangement and to give up her car. But it’s hard, because she’s smart, opinionated, and up to date on everything from politics to well…politics. That’s her favorite, because its something she can rant and rave about and come away from it energized. The thing is, she’s mentally sharp, and she’s not sick. But her reflexes are ninety-six years old. She’s an accident waiting to happen, not only to herself, but maybe to somebody else, too. But this isn’t about being reasonable. She’s afraid. She has said that she knows that some day, she’s going to have to give up the car, but not yet. She believes she’ll die when she gives up the keys and life on her own terms. She’s probably right. And she’s not ready. Not yet. Maybe she’s not ready because it’s not her time. But when it is her time, I hope that she will be able to hear the Voice that says, “I love you. Come home. ” And no longer be afraid. I hope that for myself, too.
Some years ago, I had a near-death experience. I was on an operating table. The lights of the operating theater were in my eyes, and the last thing I saw was the silhouette of the doctor standing over me. I told him I was ready. He said, “Well, we’re ready for you.” But that wasn’t what I meant. I meant I was ready. I had a ruptured fallopian tube, I was bleeding out, and gently sinking into another place. It was the loveliest feeling I’ve ever had in this lifetime. I wish I had a better word to describe it. I couldn’t tell him what I meant, because then everything went dark. When I woke up, all I wanted to do was to go back. I never thought of saying, not yet. I still don’t. But then, I’m not ninety-six. Not yet.