My husband and I went to visit his mother yesterday. She holds the mortgage on our house; and we were taking her a cheque. She is 81 years old, and a widow for the last 5 years. She has always been a very strong woman, living through the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands, emigrating to Canada with her husband and young son, raising 5 children, running a household and a small business. I have never really liked her very much (she just rubs me the wrong way), but I have always admired her.
So, yesterday, Nick and I drive over to have tea with her. We are sitting at the dining table talking; she's telling us about her trip to New Hampshire and the harrowing drive back through the ice storm that we had last weekend. She keeps skipping back and forth between English and Dutch, so I'm only getting about half of what she's talking about, but Nick doesn't even notice. Her voice is quivering a little bit, and I suddenly realize - This woman is old.
Now, of course, I am aware that she is getting up there. I mean, she is 81. But, she has always been so strong and in control that I never thought of her as old. She still lives in her own house and does most things for herself. And she still drives. But, sitting there in her lovely dining room, all the small changes over the years came together in my head. How thin and small she has become. And her beautiful handwriting, taught to her in a convent school, a spidery scrawl now. She doesn't swim anymore, thought she used to do 3 miles a week. So many other little changes that, in themselves, went unremarked.
I went away from her house with the realization that she will not always be there. I hadn't understood just what a solid fixture she has been in our lives. There, sort of in the background, and ever to be relied upon. We always knew that she (and dad, before he died) were there to help if ever we needed it. I am only realizing now how secure that has made me feel, to know that help, and unconditional love too, was only a phone call away.
But not forever.
I will miss her when she is gone. But her health is good and her mind is sharp, and I hope to enjoy her company for several more years. I still don't like her very much. But I love her.