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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

A Life Well Lived

Okay, she needs a walker to get around.  She fractured her spine as a 94-year-old lifting and carting moving boxes. Her beloved husband who lived to 95 had died, and she just didn’t need all that “space.”

“Z” was one of my mother’s dearest and “we-go-way-back” friends.  They were introduced to each other by my mother’s younger brother who’d gone to camp and had “Z” as his counselor.

Until last evening, I didn’t know that.  And I didn’t know whether “Z” was still alive.  She’d called me a few times after my mother died 7 years ago.  But we’d lost touch since then.  Or maybe I’d heard from a mutual friend that her husband had died and called to offer my condolences.  It was a long time ago.

That mutual friend called me late yesterday afternoon to tell me that “Z”‘s oldest son was very ill, suffering from an autoimmune disease that was responsible for compromising several of his organs, including his heart.

My first reaction:  Never mind about her son.  Can “Z” still be alive?  Wasn’t she just a tad younger than my mother?  (My mother would have been 99 next month.)

“She is definitely alive.”

I was hesitant to ask for any more details.  I imagined a wheelchair bound shadow of her former self, unable to hear, see or pull more than one thought together before losing it into the ethernet.

I picked up the phone.  That was the least I could do.

The woman I heard on the other end had all her “marbles” and then some.  She remembered with clarity not only what happened a zillion years ago but yesterday . . . a few hours before.

“How much younger are you than my mom?”

“Less than 2 years.”

OMG!  She was ancient.  I tried to do the math.

“I’m 98,” she said.


I was stunned.

She gave me a quick rundown on how she’d fractured her spine but how, in spite of not being able to walk more than a few steps without a walker, she leads a full life with a bevy of friends (“All of them younger, of course”), reads voraciously (“Real books.  Not those reader things”), and is up to date on everything except the Internet and emails.

“I like writing notes and letters.  I like using a pen and writing on real paper.  It’s personal and more meaningful.”

Her energy was palpable.  I felt renewed.  Optimistic.  Grateful.  I would get back on that healthy diet immediately and refuse a puff on a cigarette every time I’m with my friend who smokes.

“You know,” she said.  “I know so many people who just complain, complain, complain.”

Oh, brother, was she talking about me?

“And, yes, aging has its heartaches and challenges.  But if you accept the things you can no longer do and embrace all that you can, getting older is a gift.”

Not necessarily words I hadn’t heard before but, coming from “Z”, they took on a life of their own.  She wasn’t spouting psychobabble.  She is a crone.  A wise woman.

“May I call you every once a while?” “Z” said.  You know, just to check in and chat?”

“Anytime.  Yes, anytime.”

I wanted to tell her I loved her but hesitated.

I wish I hadn’t.


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