A few days ago, a special friend celebrated a milestone birthday. A big milestone.
She turned 100. I am so lucky to have her as a friend when she got that far.
Ruth is not “one of my parents friends” or the relative of a former spouse of whom “I got custody.” We met four years ago when we were both involved in a nonprofit vintage fashion show guild that raised money for Goodwill programs.
No, she was not licking envelopes. She helped us get in and out of the vintage clothing at shows all over the region. (She also made sure we were careful with it, often picking up things models had dropped on the floor in haste to get into the next outfit ASAP and hanging the clothing carefully so it could be safely stored.)
She still lives in her own house—thanks to a heavy commitment from her daughter (who ran the fashion shows when we were doing them). Up until a year ago when she had a bad fall, Ruth lived alone. She’s still functioning in that home (with ongoing help from her daughter now)–gets up every morning, dresses, and participates in the day.
Her heart rate is something like 31. Yes, that’s her pulse. How she has the energy to do anything more than breathe is a mystery to me. But she is still very much alive and involved.
We love stories about centenarians who are still full of life. We pass along the YouTube posts of older adults doing young at heart things. Celebrating that pluck gives us a more upbeat sense of where we are all going. But my chance to get to know Ruth has taught me far more valuable things about how to travel the route as we near the “end of the road” with dignity and grace. And a good sense of humor.
After the fall that triggered some health problems, I started visiting with Ruth every few weeks so her daughter could get some time on her own without “worrying about Mom.” I asked to do that to offer Nancy needed respite from caregiving. But my time with Ruth very quickly became something I personally benefited from in both obvious and subtle ways. My bond with Ruth was easy to build and means a lot to me.
Ruth has taught me so much about how to live well when living becomes tenuous. Every day, she gets up and goes on. She’ll keep doing that until her body gives out. But it’s how she does it that has made it such a rich experience to know her.
She’s fun to talk to. Since she hasn’t heard them before, she finds all the crazy stories of my life entertaining. But we also talk a lot about her family and her heritage and things she’s done with her life. Even though she is starting to slow down in major ways, we still have two-way conversations. (A lot of us don’t get that with our teenage kids…or spouses in their prime!)
She is grateful, especially for all the good people who have come into her life. She notices them and appreciates them. (And as one such person—at least in her opinion—being appreciated by Ruth makes you feel pretty dang special.) She has told me again and again, that the reason she has lived this long was all the good people who came into her life along the way.
She embraces the age she is now. She certainly didn’t expect longevity. Her mother died when she was seven and her dad died when she was sixteen. She doesn’t lament “being old,” and she doesn’t whine about what doesn’t work. She finds the good, the upbeat, the interesting and pays attention to it.
She engages. When I visit, she’s happy to see me. When I tell her about something I’m trying to do, she encourages me. She builds me up in so many little ways….by asking about what I have been doing….by laughing at my “creative catastrophes”.…by inquiring about my kids and grandkids. She is still part of life in how she lives her day.
She’s patient with herself. It’s so easy to get sucked into the “injustice” of no longer being able to do things you used to be able to do for yourself. She does what she can and then accepts help. That’s not easy, but she does it with grace.
She has kept her sense of humor. On her birthday, I asked her if she was going out dancing that night to cap off her big day. She put on a thoughtful look and then said, “Not tonight. It’s been a long, busy day, and I’m a bit tired. I’ll do that tomorrow.”
But even all of the things listed above in total don’t capture the magnitude of what she’s given me. She’s taught me not to be afraid of extreme old age. You can still be the timeles you that you are at your core then.
She does that beautifully. And I have learned so much for time with her. Thank you, Ruth.