A Different Kind of Valor
Today I’m thinking of the unspeakable courage of elders. I see it everywhere, and I am in awe watching the everyday bravery of so many. After all, I am one of them, and I am beginning to understand the challenges. There’s none of the glamour we admire watching a ski jumper lift off on the slopes, just day to day sheer grit.
On this particular day I’m thinking of my fragile, 93-year-old mother. Only once had I ever seen her cry, but on that afternoon her lips were wobbling and her eyes were full of tears. It was her third breakage–two hip fractures, and now a still more painful one to the pubic bone. When I slipped into the rehab facility she had just been delivered back to her room after a physiotherapy session. She looked at me pleadingly from her hospital bed.
“I can’t do it, Per. I just don’t have any more in me.” I had never ever seen my mother quit and I didn’t know what to say. But after a long pause the hard words came to me. “It’s up to you. No one will judge you, but just think how it will be never to walk again. That wouldn’t be you. I think you somehow have to find a way to go on.” I sat on the bed and held her hand for a few minutes, but then sensed that her misery was so deep that she just wanted to be left alone, so I walked out, not wanting her to witness my own tears.
The next time I came, the therapist was eager to show me how well she was doing pushing her walker now. Though I’m not sure she ever forgave me for being the one to point out her choice, there was no more talk of quitting.
Move on to a day of the last summer of her life, when I drove over to the beautiful lakeside retirement home where she was living. There I met her, as she was most afternoons, pushing her racy turquoise walker, her grey sunhat sliding over her eyes, halfway down the very long tree-lined laneway, with a cat or two in the basket for company. Indeed, until the very last weeks of her life, she kept her autonomy, continuing to get about on her own with no help. She would pause to consider one of her last small watercolor sketches which were laid out on a nearby table or she would hoist herself up from her bed to go to sit by the broad window, looking out over the lake, or I might find her sitting beside one of the old men in the living room having rugby explained to her.
Everywhere I go now I see this everyday bravery.
So many, far worse off than I am, haul themselves out of their cars and somehow drag themselves to the grocery store where there is the relief of being supported, while pushing a shopping cart. Keep going.
I pop into the pharmacy to grab a prescription and see someone with a shaking arm holding a box up to the light to read the fine print. Don’t give up.
For some, this daily getting around is so fearful that I don’t even want to look. And yet, if you stop to greet them, they stand taller, a smile on their faces, grab your arm, tap your shoulder. We get it. Like it or not, we all are part of the club, and we care.
You can do it. Don’t lose hope.