When my mind got hijacked in an assisted living facility
I don’t worry much about old age. I know it’s a common concern for those of us who have ended up without children, and understandably so. Though my lack of caring has baffled me, I’m clearly burdened with enough in other areas so I’m actually glad for it in a way (while it lasts). I figure it’s either because A) I’ve got so much else on my shoulders I can’t see fear I do have, B) I’m far too busy grieving the future I lost to be bothered with apprehensions over the new one, or C) I trust that as a scrappy bitch I’ll figure it out when I get there and hey, besides a decades long future spent cold, starving and naked in a prison camp for a crime I didn’t commit, what could be worse than grieving the loss of my children anyway?
We all have our aspects of this child free not by choice thing that rattle us more than others – it is neither here nor there, worse nor better – it’s simply what is. And our individual triggers do not detract from the main truth that ALL of this, triggering or not, is both profoundly hard and life altering.
So you can imagine my surprise when one day….. I was sitting in my symphonic band, preparing to play our third piece on the program. We perform at this particular assisted living facility twice a year to a wonderfully enthusiastic and decent sized audience, 150 – 200 people or so.
My section mate was up front, getting ready to perform her Concertino, and quite a virtuosic one at that. I set up my music and blew into my flute to keep it warm as our conductor introduced her and informed the audience she was going off to college in the fall. Upon learning where, an audience member jubilantly called out “My greeeyuhn – dawduh (yes folks, that’s Long Islandese for grand-daughter) goes to Mannes!”
If you’re guessing this “thanks for sharing” comment triggered something in me, then yes you are correct.
As the descending chords opened the piece, my current reality evaporated as I saw, all too creepily, my present state in my 90 year old body. And the person that flashed before me, in and of herself, was not so bad. She was around 90 and had lived longer than someone with her biochemical imbalances ever should. Her experience and inhabitation on this earth had a richness that far exceeded what conventional wisdom says people with her lack of faith and excess of cynicism can ever achieve. She still meets life with one part discernment, one part wit, one part empathy, and her eyes still roll up in her head when she’s annoyed or impatient (which is still a lot of the time). She’s got wire framed glasses, hair in a ponytail, more wrinkles than you can count, and unlike the majority of her 90 year old counterparts, is a bit too thin.
So far, not so bad, right? It was the SITUATION that surrounded her and her relationship to it where things started to disintegrate. As the flute Concertino leapt and gurgled through high flying scale passages, my mind took on the form of a horrific amusement park ride of sorts with the realization: Holy. Crap. This. Will. Never. End. I’m going to be ninety and fielding pictures of people’s friggen grandchildren, or worse, great grandchildren. This will never stop.
I try to reason with myself that maybe I won’t care then, but the image continued to take on a life of its own.
I end up in an assisted living facility and feel lucky in this regard. However, my husband is dead and so are most of the men who I’ve been more comfortable with socially for the past 45 or so years. They were, after all, easier to talk to, less judgmental, had exceptionally better senses of humor, a more refined appreciation of liquor, and were, quite notably, much less likely to force pictures of their progeny on someone who doesn’t get to have any. Not to mention I could bum a cigar off of them every now and then. But they are all gone, my useful steady men, and I am left with a gaggle of “my grandchildren, my grandchildren” yip yapping old ladies who do no better of a job respecting my loss than they did two generations ago. And me? Well. They say you get more blunt as you get older. Suffice it to say this could be a problem.
Will that turn my current day “I of course don’t wish anyone anything bad, but I’m not able to look baby pictures right now” that I’m ready to pull out at a moment’s notice into a 90 year old “Fuck off, bitch. Why don’t you come back with something interesting for a change??”
Or will my 90 year old response to “My greeyund-dawduh goes to Mannes” be “That’s quaint. And where did you go, Mistaking Me For Someone Who Cares University??”
Will I still be judged? Will I cry when the other ladies have their future generations flitting around them on their birthdays and on mine when I have none? Will I ever forget – forget how old my children would and should have been, and how old their children might be??
The mind is a funny thing. Because when it doesn’t get tripped up, as that comment in that particular environment so understandably caused mine to do, it delivers its share of good sense. In my non spinning moments, I’m open to the possibilities. The possibility that I’ll have a solid network of friends with experiences similar to mine to lean on, the possibility that my life will turn out well and other people’s offspring will not be so triggering, the possibility that the capacities gained from my experiences will eventually draw people to me as opposed to serving as a repellant, or even the possibility that I won’t get to live long enough to deal with old age. It’s also possible that I will end up working with young people in some capacity and will receive my share of visitors anyway, and that the advocacy work we are all doing now will make a difference, endowing the world with more compassion for infertility by the time I’m winding down my stay here on earth.
I’m with Elie Wiesel (looking forward to reading his work soon) when he said, regarding life, “It’s ALL possible.” It sure is. The good, the atrocious and every single slab in between. What I do know about the future is that it has the capacity to be both far better AND worse than any of us could possibly imagine. And there’s not a whole heck of a lot we can do to affect how it turns out, at least the major important stuff anyway. For me this makes the present infinitely richer. Perhaps this is why I make an effort to not torture myself by going somewhere I can’t. Should I actually meet any of these difficult moments, I’ll meet them with the perspective I have then, not the one I have now. I was reminded in a recent therapy session that it’s too soon for me to be contemplating these things, such as how I’m going to be with other people’s children and with people who are parents themselves. My loss is still too near, my emotions far too raw. I was also reminded that my feisty 90 year old grandchild picture swatting character may not be such an unfortunate way to end up. It could be rather cool, actually, and I, a fine badass no doubt.
But for now? As deserving applause thunders through the audience, I decide to give myself credit for not dropping the flute altogether in the midst of my life crisis. And revel a bit in the organic connection that evolved between me and the college bound flutist who sat on my right. “My evil twin” I dubbed her – we sure enjoyed each other’s company and I’ll miss her. And I’ll continue to grieve the loss of my children, which is still where I am in spite of all of the progress I’ve made. For now, I’ll stay here.