I have lived across the street from an elderly widow for about twenty years. Mary will be 94 this month. Or is it 95? She lives alone, in a single family house. Mary is a church-going woman who can remember when her family first got electricity in their Indiana house in the form of a single bulb hanging from the kitchen ceiling. She speaks to her sister, still in Indiana, on the phone every day.
Mary communicates with her two sons by email and she walks a mile every day. She does her own taxes and her house is spotless. As I write this, she is bringing my newspaper up the driveway so I don’t have to make the cold trek down myself. When it snows, my husband and I have to wait for Mary to take a nap so we can shovel her driveway. Otherwise, she’ll come out with a shovel herself. Once, when we had over a foot of snow, I emailed a picture showing Mary standing with her shovel next to her newly cleaned driveway to her sons.
Mary’s sons worry about her being in the house alone. They've equipped her with a high tech medical alert necklace that she still hasn't quite figured out. They help her with her computer problems remotely, and, armed with a list of chores she has provided, they each come to visit her a few times a year. She has been on the waiting list for an apartment in a housing complex for the elderly for the past 15 years. Each time they call, she starts purging her house of paperwork and old appliances only to call them back and tell them “No thanks. Not right now. Put me back on the waiting list.”
Mary doesn't watch TV. But she does take in quite a bit from the bay window in her kitchen. She is very conscious of my comings and goings, of which there seem to be a lot. She often seems to lay in wait to catch me coming home from work, or a grocery errand so she can share a small tidbit of not so very newsy news, or to ask for a recommendation for someone to stain her deck or trim her trees, or sometimes to share a bit of neighborhood gossip.
Last year, Mary started slowing down a bit, tired all the time. She got a pacemaker installed and seems to be doing much better now. Her hearing is shot and she never remembers to wear her hearing aids. But her mind is 100% there.
When she turned 90, we threw her a small surprise party with the neighbors. Mary giggled and finished a big slice of cake. I think maybe it’s time to throw Mary another party.