John is in Connecticut today. He drove down this morning to visit his parents, who live in a congenial, attractive assisted living community in the town of Cheshire, where John grew up. His dad will turn 92 in early September; his mom just celebrated her 87th birthday on the fourth of July, in defiance of a late-stage cancer diagnosis she received close to two years ago. She opted not to pursue treatment; it made her feel too awful. She’s been in hospice care ever since. Although she spends most of her time in bed, and much of that sleeping, she sparks right up for visits and meals, her mind keen as ever, which is saying something. She presides over her bed kingdom with regal command, her minions a succession of cheerful health aides and hospice personnel, along with her loyal, royal consort, my father-in-law. They appear to be squeezing every possible drop of affection and connection out of their marriage of sixty plus years, despite the pain of her disease and the shadow of inevitable loss.
On my side, the Hacketts, my dad is 83 and in excellent health…a little prostate scare here and a pinched nerve there, but like my mother-in-law, his mind is sharper than a German butcher’s meat cleaver. His mother lived to 106 years old, dying of natural causes, her intellect relentlessly sound right up until the last day of her life. She once apologized when we were on the phone for repeating a story she had told me the last time we spoke. I had completely forgotten. She was 103 at the time; I was at the beginning of perimenopause and constantly whiffing on stuff, students’ names, my cellphone number, birthdays of people important to me. I laughed, “Mimsy, you are more cognitively together than Harvard’s entire neuroscience department.” Given this provenance, I’m hoping my dad has a long runway before taking off for the next dimension.
Mom turns 83 in September and has, like Dad, been mercifully free of major glitches for most her life. She has a pacemaker, but that’s just maintenance. In the past few years, she has felt more vulnerable to the quirks of her aging body: ocular migraine headaches, some swelling near one of her optic nerves, cataracts. She falls more than we’d like, but that’s largely because she’s so preoccupied with her busy thoughts. These reductions in function are disconcerting, but not the knell of doom she sometimes feels them to be, at least I hope not. I coach her to stop measuring her well-being by the yardstick of her first seventy to eighty years, the near-perfect health of her youth. It must be hard, not to mark every new deficit with some apprehension. Yet she still has so much good material to work with.
So between them, our four parents have racked up a combined 345 years in longevity, all of those years in full possession of their faculties, relatively speaking. We get to enjoy their company awhile longer, looks like.