I need to put the title of this post in context. I did not learn these things from my dearly departed mother-in-law as a result of her explaining their importance to me. She never gave me any advice at all as I recall, at any time. And I didn’t learn these importance lessons by watching her, at least I didn’t realize I was. I’ve learned the lessons since, as I age myself and remember all the things this lovely woman did, quietly and purposefully, as she aged well all the way to nearly 97 years old. Of course, at the time, my husband and I didn’t think much about what she was doing except that it was endearing in its own way. But now we realize just how impressive her approach to her later years were, all on her own as a widow.
My mother-in-law, Eloise, described herself as more of a listener than a talker, and as a result most of her friends and younger family members never heard about her many compelling life experiences. Regardless, to all who encountered her, she was warm, gracious, and well loved.
Eloise was part of my life for 38 years, from the time I met her practically perfect son in 1965 until her death in 2003. [This is ten years longer than I had my mother as part of my life; she very sadly died in 1974 when I was 28. So she never had the opportunity to provide me with any hints about aging or how to do so graciously. She was, however, a woman whose views were always generously volunteered(!), and whose strength and guidance remain with me on a daily basis.] Eloise lived her last 25 years as a widow; she decided to move to live near us for what turned out to be the last 18 years of her life, the last several of which were in a self-contained apartment in our house. What a gift that was for us; in some ways it’s like she’s still here.
At this point my husband would be saying, “Just get to the point.” And he’d be right, as usual (well, usually).
Lessons Eloise imparted by walking the talk without the talking part. She just did it, with intention.
- Never stop learning or being curious.
Eloise always stayed abreast of local, national, and world news on a daily basis, and liked to discuss possible ramifications. Of course, we didn’t stop to think about it, but she lived through the introduction of electrified houses, the radio, automobiles, antibiotics, airplanes, 2 World Wars, TV, the Great Depression, going into space, and computers. If anyone understood the relevance of news, it would be her.
If she didn’t understand something she had heard on the news or a documentary, she’d remember to ask us for our input. It mattered to her.
She also read vociferously. When her eyesight went due to macular degeneration in her last years, she had a steady stream of talking books from the CNIB. And since her hearing went as well, the talking books could be pretty loud!
- Always be open to new opportunities.
She may have seemed passive, but she was up for nearly anything she was invited to. In 1981, when she was 75 (my age now), she saw an article about China opening up more places to international travelers. She knew that a friend who had lived there as a child (of a missionary) had always wanted to return, so the two of them went on a 3-week tour. This was 40 year ago; they were 75 and 85. Eloise broke her ankle and was the first westerner in the hospital in Chengdu! Despite lots of pain, she absolutely revelled in everything about the trip.
When she was in her 80s, living here in our town, and a devotee of the TV show Dallas, she saw an ad for a locally-run bus tour from here (NE of Maine) to Dallas to tour JR’s ranch, and also a stop in Nashville. She thought this would be a terrific trip; she reached out to family members (aka daughters) to go with her. I was lucky, I was working, but even without that excuse she got no takers from any of her daughters. So, she went on her own. There was no doubt that everyone on the bus loved her; they must have adopted her as the group’s mother/grandmother. When she got back, aside from enthusing over every aspect of the trip, she had more than one call (and pickup) to attend reunions of the group. Clearly, it had been a serious bonding exercise.
When she was in her 70s she happily accepted an invite to join one family in a cross-Canada camping trip. She enjoyed every minute of it. Sorry, but at the same age I am past being able to sleep without a mattress! But, as my husband reminds me, she was a general in the Girl Guides. I guess some things stay with you.
- Cultivate and nurture friendships.
Eloise spent her married life moving to wherever her husband’s job took them. She raised 4 kids and made life work for them all. After her husband retired, they moved to a small home on the Margaree River in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, but most winters they spent a few months overseas on assignments my father-in-law took with CESO (Canadian Executive Services Overseas). During the 1970s Eloise found herself in such faraway places as Athens, Tehran, Mashad (Iran), Manilla, Kuala Lumpur, Jamaica, and Barbados. In each location, incredibly diverse as they were, she established a life for herself by joining women’s groups of a local church or ex-pat organization. She developed friends and a home, as short-term as they might have been. She followed the same path when she moved to Fredericton to live near us when she was nearly 80, joining the United Church and being a regular at the weekly women’s gatherings. She knew how to carve out a life for herself wherever she found herself. And her quiet kindness attracted friendships with ease.
- Stay physically active.
Anyone who knew Eloise will find this one amusing, but it’s true. Eloise was no athlete. She didn’t have an athlete’s body; she would never have been accused of needing a good meal. But she understood the importance of staying active. While they still lived in their home in Cape Breton, I can remember her husband’s amusement at her having acquired a small home trampoline. But she had read that it would be good for her balance and heart, and so jump she did. Gentle jumping, but still jumping. We still have a few of her “home gym” pieces, including some hand weights and an intriguing contoured pad of blue plastic that was meant for her to lie on to help her do sit-ups. That one she had seen advertised on TV. Once she moved here, to a downtown location, and for a few years in London, Ontario, she became a walking fool. She walked everywhere and often. She joined a fitness group at a local church hall for 55+, and then Gold’s Gym. She even walked the stairs in her apartment building just for exercise. As I say, you wouldn’t have gathered anything about a fitness level by looking at her, but looks can be deceiving. And she understood the importance of being fit.
- Eat smart.
Eloise loved to eat. And she loved to cook. She had become a follower of the Vermont Folk Medicine advice way back in the 60s, and always paid attention to what was good for you. Then she’d cook lots of it and eat it! Brown rice, fish, almonds, walnuts, blueberries, all those antioxidants, she was an early adopter. And she got in enough canned fruit juice to float a ship. When I carried her groceries in I’d tell her that had just completed my weight training for the day, and that she’d better start drinking the juice immediately if she intended to buy the same amount next week. She definitely understood the theories of hydration and vitamins.
As you can tell, it’s impossible to think of Eloise without tenderness. She left many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and of course they kept coming long after she left us. She’s left a huge clan. I’ll close with a picture of Eloise Fritz with her 4 great-grandchildren who were born in 1991. They are all 1 or just about in this picture. This year they turn 30!
May you all have such warm – and long – memories of a mother or mother figure in your lives. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers within reading distance.