A Yankee Notebook: An inevitable and terminal move

Willem Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Willem Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


For the Valley News

Published: 04-17-2024 9:02 AM

Modified: 04-24-2024 2:38 PM

Living three and a half hours apart, as we do, my dear friend Bea and I get to see each other about every two weeks or so, on average. This is almost without doubt an ideal arrangement, as our lifestyles are quite different, and neither of us could long endure life in the other’s home. In addition, she’s still working full-time. All we have, essentially, is personal compatibility, which seems to be enough to propel us together into various trips and adventures, from schooner cruises off the coast of Maine and a week in Utah canyon country to, in a couple of weeks, a tour of Portugal. She’s 12 years younger than I, assuring that one of us can read schedules, understand loudspeaker announcements that appear to be given in Hindi, and tell the other one that the reason he’s having trouble staying in his lane is that his headlights aren’t on.

We pretty much alternate between her place and mine, and email back and forth every evening. It’s a fairly pleasant arrangement. We can keep each other up to date on mundane things like car problems, book club discussions, the progress of her various graduate students and family matters.

Three-day weekends are our favorites, for obvious reasons. This past weekend was one of them, thanks to the Colonial farmers of Lexington and Concord, who in 1775 famously gave the British ball for ball from behind each fence and barnyard wall. Some friends had arranged for me to tell some stories to my fellow oldsters at Kendal of Hanover. Bea would meet me there in the afternoon. We’d visit with a member of the now-defunct Geriatric Adventure Society and dine elegantly. I’d tell my stories, and we’d spend the night. Then on to Montpelier to finish the weekend before her drive back to Nahant.

Naturally, I was tickled that she could be with me. But I will admit to a secret agenda. My old friends who are living now at Kendal seem to like it a lot. They have varying levels of care available to them, and they could keep their dogs with them, which to me feels like a significant improvement over many eldercare situations.

I have no plans at the moment ever to be there, but at the same time have to admit the eventual need to be somewhere other than in my lovely one-level home. My entrance door has a ramp leading up to it. I built it originally for our old dog, who couldn’t do stairs anymore. Then for a couple of years I wheeled my wife up and down it as long as I could. Now it’s perfect for an old guy who comes home from the supermarket and trudges heavily with his grocery bags up the ramp to the door. Bea loves her home beside the ocean, as well. My agenda was to give her a look at life at Kendal, lest we might ever be faced with a mutual retreat from our present lives.

Our welcome couldn’t have been warmer. Everyone we talked to seemed delighted to see us. That’s not hard to take. After dinner we went to the storytelling venue and checked out the sound system. Old friends came up to chat. By show time we had a very jolly-looking full house. There followed a delightful hour of stories and questions; afterward we drove to our guest house, and put our tired bones to bed. Breakfast and good-byes were equally pleasant. We set out separately for Montpelier, picked up Kiki, and went home for what was left of the weekend.

But in the back of my mind lingered the shadow of the fact that a move to Kendal or a similar facility, no matter how pleasant, was a terminal decision. In the face of the inevitable, and perhaps even imminent, fading of mind, senses or mobility, and barring unforeseen illness, it eventually will have to be made. We have an informal, but expressed agreement, Bea and I, to focus entirely on the joys of the present, rather than the certain darkness at the head of the stairs. Both of us have lost the loves of our lives, and feel grateful — even giddy — for a second chance at happiness. And yet...

It’s worse than useless to wonder how we might have deserved such happiness. The effort reminds me of a description of grace that I once heard: “You don’t deserve it; you couldn’t deserve it; you haven’t to deserve it.” So I don’t try anymore to second-guess it. Instead, I celebrate with Sean O’Casey, who wrote near the end of his life: “Even here, even now, when the sun had set and the evening star was chastely touching the bottom of the night, there were things to say, things to do.... Here, with whitened hair, desires failing, strength ebbing out of him, with the sun gone down, and with only the serenity and the calm warning of the evening star left to him, he drank to life, to all it had been, to what it was, to what it would be. Hurrah!”

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I have over eight decades of memories to enjoy, but intend to create, with help, a few more.