I was reminded again today that life is short. Even when you live to be 90, it is short.
And I also was reminded that it is never too late to do what you want to do.
It was a story in the Record Searchlight, in the Currents section, just underneath a regular column by Stewart Elliott titled "Notes from a Nursing Home." He wrote for Scripps-Howard from his room in an Evansville, Ind., nursing home, offering hints to seniors about managing their affairs, about life's little jokes, about his "old musings."
And he died a few weeks ago. His last column -- and his obituary -- ran today.
I'd read his column since the paper began carrying it and enjoyed it because his outlook was positive, matter-of-fact, and practical about aging and death and living. I especially liked it because after he went into the home, he found a completely new career in writing.
Maybe I paid more attention because my mother was a nursing home resident for six years, there not because her mind was shaky, but because her body was so fragile from osteoporosis and a heart condition revealed only a few years before the osteoporosis tore her spine to shreds and unalterably changed her life.
It's nobody's ambition to end up in a nursing home with "old" people who may have to wear Depends or be spoon fed or be confined to a wheel chair or have to use a walker. We all would prefer to die peacefully in our sleep, at our own home in our own bed, preferably following a day doing something wonderful, and when we're very, very old (like about 40 or 50 or 60 years older than we are going to be this year).
Bottom line is that there are likely to be even more nursing home residents in the next 20-40 years as we baby boomers hit retirement and fall victim to the many diseases and conditions heredity can deal out and to which aging bodies are susceptible.
What Stewart Elliott showed in his columns is that there is still life, there is still potential for growth and change and joy and contribution. He spoke honestly and from a peaceful place in his heart -- and his life wasn't all roses, either.
My folks showed us by example that when bad things happen you can either get angry, become bitter, and let the illness/disability rule, or you can accept where you are and do all you can with what you still have. I wish things had not been so hard for my mother in those last years, so painful. But she maintained her grace and dignity despite indignities, she contributed her ideas and opinions to make the nursing home better, she listened and talked to so many young aides and nurses who sought her counsel. And she loved us deeply to her end. And still.
Life does not end until breath and brain cease working. We have opportunities to contribute, to explore, to influence others until then.
Traveling mercies, Mr. Elliott. Thank you for your grace and your example. I'll miss your column.