The joys and sorrows of
Living a long life
February 14, 2005
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I have nearly daily conversations with my 93 year old mother.  She is lucid and articulate (and wins half of our Scrabble games). My mother and I often discuss the passing of one of her friends, or her sister, or her neighbor, or some other significant person in her life.
Some years ago it began happening too often to be ignored and increasingly difficult for her to deal with these issues alone.   I did not want each of these personal tragedies to be so difficult for her, emotionally or spiritually, to hasten the deterioration of her own life. After all, as my mother gets older, she is likely going to outlive these dear people around her and this will become an occurrence she will HAVE to adjust to. One can understand that intellectually, but trying to absorb the reality of it, especially at the moment when my mother is dealing with that loss is another story. I, her 59 year old son, can only sympathize at best;  I cannot empathize. I expect she goes to bed some nights not knowing whether she will awake in heaven or in Ft. Lauderdale.  
But we have now had this discussion many times, as you can imagine with my mother being 93 years old .   Losing her younger sister, the last remaining sibling of 7, was the greatest test of applying this intellectual philosophy to her own heart, when my Aunt died two years ago at the age of 86.  She did fine. There is nothing callous about my mother or uncaring nor is there the slightest irreverence for life. So I am amazed how well she does each time she is faced with yet another 'important' loss around her.  She has her time of silent reflection and then we talk.   I listen mostly. I keep my mouth shut and my ears wide open.  And then I notice, hours, days, weeks later, never more, she returns to our current world and begins to focus on the next joyful anticipated event in her life - whether it is a visit from her children or grandchildren or the birth of her great-granddaughter, or a gift from her famous son singing "My Yiddisha Mamma" to her, while she sits surrounded by 300 of her friends.
My mother is a terrific role model for all of us who will, someday, with good fortune, be in her position. I am still learning important lessons from her. She is still learning too.   I understand the inevitable drawback of living a long life, having to watch people around you, whom you love, die.
It is clear also, barring exceptional health problems, that one's life need not become stagnant - ever.     At 93 years old (and hopefully well past 100), my mother is still adding "highlights" to her life - the kind of highlights that one might devote an entire chapter to in their published memoirs.
Technology will likely make both these joys and sorrows more common for subsequent generations.    It's the reward we earn and the price we pay for living a long life.  

Jerry Garfunkel
Woodstock, NY

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© 2005, Jerry Garfunkel  • 172 Tinker Street • Woodstock, NY 12498 • Tel/Fax +1 845 679 0770 • www.jeromegarfunkel.com • jerry@jeromegarfunkel.com