Mother’s Day, 2017. Considering that I had more time with my mother-in-law (38 years) than with my Mom (28 years, until her untimely death), it seems fitting that, along with my own mother, I think of our family’s Mum/Grandma/Great Grandma on Mother’s Day weekend. To be honest, what made me think of her last night was the wooden spoon I use for stir-frying. I pulled it out of the drawer, took a look at the worn-down, stained, even scorched spoon and thought of her. It looked just like her spoons, not to mention many of the other items in her very well-used kitchen.
As I age – rapidly, it feels like – I am reminded more and more of Mum. The way I wear the same few clothes over and over again remind me of Mum. The way I wear the same shoes year after year, rather than getting new ones (except for sneakers, of course!), remind me of Mum. The way I don’t want to throw away my (very) old pots just because they’re discoloured remind me of Mum. The way I find myself stuffing a Kleenex in my sleeve (despite questioning remarks from the males in my family) remind me of Mum. The interesting thing is that we (my husband and I) always noticed these practices of Mum, and we always spoke of them affectionately but with a slight shake of our heads. But now that I have reached the stage of life that the media likes to call “senior”, I not only get it, I find myself following the same path.
Now that I think of it, my mother-in-law was widowed when she was exactly the age I am now. And she lived to be nearly 97, spending nearly 26 as an independent single woman. She quietly forged a full life for herself, keeping up with a rapidly expanding family across Canada (4 kids, 16 grandchildren, and at the time of her death 19 great grandchildren), but also developing new friendships, pursuing new interests, and always being very well-read and well-versed in current events. She lived near us for the last 18 years of her life, and lived in an independent apartment in our house for the final 6 years of that period of time. She accurately described herself as more of a listener than a talker, but people who got to know her through her various church groups in those later years found her to be a warm, gracious woman who was interested in what they had to say. (Many of those people wouldn’t have known how much extensive travelling she had done, first with my father-in-law after he retired and did consulting work in developing countries, and then in tour groups on her own, including a trip to China in the 1980s.)
I realize now that by sharing so much of her life in its last chapters, I had a window onto what those phases are like; I just didn’t think about it that way at the time. We think we will be different from the “old folks” when we get older, but we forget that our perspective changes. We’re not trying to prove ourselves any more. That part of aging is remarkably refreshing.
So, on this Mother’s Day weekend, I would like to thank my dearly departed mother-in-law for having provided me with a fine role model for aging well. These are some of the things Mum did that make me feel better about what I now find myself doing:
- Continue to use the same kitchen items (spoons, pots and pans, etc.) that you have used for decades. I know how to cook things exactly the way I want with the utensils and cookware I’m used to. When a salesman tells me that I just need to change how I cook things to use the fancy new surface coating on the pan, sorry, that’s not going to happen.
- Wearing favourite clothes for as long as they last is perfectly fine. New styles are not always good styles, and the colours of the season are not always the colours that complement the wearer.
- Wearing shoes that are comfortable is worth a lot. As many women will find out at some point, your feet eventually rebel after wearing high heels and shoes with tight toes for decades. A pair of comfortable shoes that aren’t very high and are even marginally acceptable in public are worth their weight in gold.
- If you may need a piece of Kleenex and you don’t have a pocket, where else would you put it but inside the cuff of your sleeve?!
- Exercise, eat healthily, and take a vitamin pill every day. My mother-in-law was a fan of books, articles, and cookbooks on healthy living and, as my husband points out from time to time, it worked pretty darn well for her. We used up the multi-vitamin pills that were left in her bottle after she died, and we’ve been taking them ever since – just in case. She ate nuts for protein, fibre, and brain health, and on it went. If she were still alive she’d definitely be eating kale!
- Make your bed every day. Actually I don’t do this, but my husband started doing this after Mum died because, he said, it reminded him of her. For that, I definitely thank her!
- Never stop reading. She had very little vision during that last several years of her life, but that didn’t stop her. She listened to talking books non-stop, with great support from the CNIB.
And, finally, I want to thank her for having raised an awesome son. Job well done, Mum! ❤