They walked among tall trees that stood like masts on tall ships. A young woman in her late twenties turned and looked at the elderly woman who was clinging to her arm and walking hesitantly beside her. “Why did you want to bring me here, Grandma?” she said.
The old woman continued to study the pathway beneath them which was lined with deep ruts. “Old age makes you want to review your life.” She looked up and immediately flashed a toothy grin. “But it’s especially fun for me to share aspects of my past with an appreciative other, so I’m glad you agreed to do this, Ashley.”
“My friends and I look forward, not backward. We say there’s no future in the past.”
The old woman tripped on a large tree root running through the pathway. She clasped her granddaughter’s arm more tightly as she strove to regain her balance. And then she said, “At your age, it’s important to be looking forward. At my age, though, I need to discover ways to find contentment with the life I’ve already lived—to come to believe it was worthwhile or had purpose. Sharing memories— both the good and the bad ones—helps me to get to that place.”
“So, what happens to those that don’t do this, Grandma?”
The old woman chuckled. “I suspect they angrily perceive themselves as little more than bodies rotting away.” The old woman shrugged her boney shoulders.
“And many older people become depressed because they view this life stage as all about loss. I, however, chose to view it differently. And indeed, I’m energized by reminiscing and conducting a life review.”
Ashley gave a nod and said, “Grandma, I remember now. You said you wanted to walk through these woods because doing so feeds your spirit. What did you mean by that exactly?”
The old woman suddenly stopped and planted a kiss on her granddaughter’s smooth cheek before she answered, “Always remember your spirit is your core, Ashley. Think of it as what enlivens you or gives you courage and heart for living. That said, though, realize as you go through life, those things will likely change.”
Ashley gave a nod. “Now, though, tell me what you currently face, Grandma, which will take courage of a new sort on your part.”
“Well, your mother wants to take me out of my current home and community and place me in an assisted living facility that’s near her house. She thinks I’ll make new friends, but she doesn’t realize that new friends aren’t the same as old friends with whom you’ve shared many experiences. As a result, I’ll be less able to relive old memories with these new people.”
“Something you believe is important to do at this stage of your life,” Ashley said.
The old woman sighed. “Your mother tells me that I don’t need to worry because even if I don’t make new friends, the staff will always treat me kindly.” She added, with frustration clinging to each word, “She doesn’t understand that even at this stage of life, I have the need to feel known and understood. I also want to feel I know and understand at least one other person in my midst.”
Ashley turned her head and smiled at her grandmother. “I think I understand."
“You think you do, but you don’t.” The old woman sighed again before she went on, “See, you haven’t found yourself not only without many of your old friends, but as the oldest generation in your family. As a result, you haven’t been left alone without people about you who’ve experienced the same critical, life-shaping world events that helped to craft your own life. But when you reach this stage in life, it’s difficult not to feel alone and lonely.”
“But Grandma, I like being with you and talking with you. I learn to look at myself and my life differently because of our conversations” Ashley wrapped her arm around her grandmother’s waist before she added, “In fact, I thank you for this gift, Grandma. And I'm nor kidding when I say this will probably become one of those memories I’ll share with others in my old age.”
“And you’ve just demonstrated that my life still has purpose.” The old woman smiled before she planted yet another kiss on her granddaughter’s cheek.