Longevity runs in my family. It is something that I know I should be thankful for, although I didn’t see it that way all the time when I was a kid. I grew up with all four of my grandparents living and within an hour’s drive of my childhood home. I even had three great-grandparents on my father’s side, with the great-grandmothers passing away when I was 13 (she was 100 1/2) and 20 (she was 88). After my parents divorced, we spent a lot of time with my mother’s parents who lived on the opposite side of town. I saw my father’s parents, who live in Charlottesville, several times a year as well. It was the status quo. I was in college before I truly recognized that some people are not as fortunate–a friend of mine had spent the summer with his grandmother in California and had a miserable time because it was the first time he’d seen her in ten years. I thought that was odd. Didn’t everyone have a close family that got on each other’s nerves like we did? And not just grandparents–there was a whole slew of great-aunts and great-uncles as well that were surrogate grandparents as well.
Like most teenage girls, there were times that I didn’t get along with my grandparents. My father is an only child, so getting along with his mother was frequently an exercise in patience. It wasn’t until I was older that I could handle a visit. It wasn’t her fault, really, she just had no clue how to handle a teenage girl. Now, however, I am happy to say that we have a great relationship and that my grandparents are extraordinarily healthy as they approach their late 80s.
My mother’s parents live locally. I adored my grandfather, and as the eldest of five grandchildren I had a special place in his heart. He is the only one of the four that has passed on to a better place, and I still think of him every single day. He is off somewhere fishing without sunscreen, happy as a clam–this I know. It’s my mom’s mom that I have been having a hard time making an effort to see. I love her, dearly, but even she admits that she’s a mean old woman.
Today I went to brunch with mom and her mom. (Usually if we can go in pairs it’s a bit easier than spending one-on-one time with her–lessens the blow.) And while some things were acceptable, at the same time she got in the car and didn’t say hello, didn’t say how are you, didn’t say thanks for the ride, just immediately started complaining about the people in her apartment building. During lunch we were subjected to the problems with the intestinal functions of another woman on her hall, the disappointment of her other children, the fact that her other grandchildren aren’t around . . . . And so on. Nothing positive, nothing uplifting, all negative. It wasn’t just today either–it is always this way. She freely admitted to my mother once that she didn’t know if she was going to be allowed into heaven or not because she is such a mean person, and I hate to say it but there are times when I agree with her.
My question is this–is this in my future? Is this what I am destined to become? It’s certainly not something that I want for my future, but as I look ahead to the fact that I will most likely live until my late 80s do I need to worry about becoming such a crotchety old bat? What has caused this woman, my grandmother, to become this person? Yes, she lost her husband. She had him for 50 years, however, which is more than many are able to claim. Is it because she’s alone? I am not married, and have no kids, does this mean that it will happen to me earlier in life?
These are the things that haunt me when I think about aging and growing old. There is the blessing of good health (mother/her father’s rare diseases not withstanding) and the blessing of longevity. But is there a curse known as “Mean Old Lady” that I have to look forward to as well?