Of course retirement, with all its potentialities, is also a time that most people experience as a race with the inevitable losses of physical and/or mental vitality. What adventures can we pursue while we can still pursue them. Last year I had my own brush with a serious illness. One that I have thankfully moved beyond.
As I said before, one of my reasons for coming to Israel was to see people while I still could. Today, for example, I visited for the third time with my 84-year old cousin Adele who is in a nursing home in the town of Ra’anana. I’ve been staying with her son, Danny, and spending time with him and his partner Shirley.
When I was nine years old, Adele stayed with us in Bellevue. I called her “Miss South Africa” because I thought she was about the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and, well, she was from South Africa. She was at the time very attentive to me, and left a positive impression. Later, I saw her when I visited Israel 25 years ago, and she came visiting with Danny in Olympia for a couple of weeks after that. We occasionally talked on the phone over the years and regularly exchanged new years greetings. I was left with a reserve of affection for both Adele and Danny. I also got to meet them several times, and visited with her younger sister Sybil and her family in South Africa. Infrequent visits and much more easily established internet voice, visual and text connections have allowed the fostering of real, emotionally rich connections.
Our visit today was filled with both sweetness and pain. Adele is in a severely limited state. It leaves her with difficulty in communication and an understandable melancholia. Danny visits with her virtually every day. His apartment – which used to be hers – is just about 2 miles down the road. He brings her food. He brings her magazines which she either does or doesn’t like or read. And mostly he brings her himself. Shirley is amazing with Adele, feeding her, stroking her hair, and generally giving, giving and more giving. These visits are reminiscent of my own visits with my mother, lost to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.
I called Sybil upon seeing Adele for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It was hard for her to understand the real condition of her older sister. After our call, Sybil decided to make the trip up from South Africa to see her. For me, it is a great joy to be able to see Sybil again. That will happen tomorrow when she arrives at the airport. But for her, I have no doubt that it will be a journey that will have moments of pain and reflection.
Sitting in the nursing home today with Adele, Danny and Shirley, I was mostly quiet. Looking at the scene. Not knowing the right thing to say or do. But taking it all in nonetheless, knowing that this too is what this trip to Israel is about. Part of the full range of experiences in launching into not just retirement, but being aged.