Golden Moments: the silver lining of aging.

Reflections on the day Mom died.

Three sets of feet resting on an ottoman.
One of many recent golden moments with my parents.

On Friday, September 27, my eighty-seven-year-old dad, who often has trouble sleeping, got up at 3 AM. In the independent-living apartment he shared with my mom, he took a few steps from the bedroom to the tiny kitchenette to get a bite to eat. He grabbed a pita bread, then took a few more steps to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a scotch.

As he sat on the living room couch enjoying his snack and his “middle-of-the-night-cap,” my mom, eight-six, appeared with her walker at the bedroom doorway.

“Do I hear the tinkling of ice-cubes?” she asked.

“Yes!” Dad answered.

His “yes” would have been enthusiastic and drawn out, both arms and one scotch raised in celebration, his eyebrows raised like a character in a Norman Rockwell painting.

“Does that mean you’d like a shot of bourbon?” he added.

It meant exactly that. So Mom shuffled to the couch while Dad fixed her drink. They sat for about fifteen minutes, holding hands, until Dad broke the silence.

“Whoever said these were the golden years could not have been a day over fifty,” Dad said. “There’s not much golden about getting old.”

There’s not much golden about the “golden years.”

Mom agreed. She would know

Two years ago, she had heart surgery from which she never completely recovered. At times, she seemed to be on the mend, then a UTI or stomach bug or new medication would spiral her back down and we’d wonder if we were going to lose her.

In the past month, though, she gained strength and spirit and seemed to be on a solid rebound. She had asked my sister and I to plan a joint visit for a “girls weekend,” which we hadn’t done in years. I had booked my flight for tomorrow.

Sitting on the couch with his wife of sixty-three years, Dad found the silver lining of another color.

“But, truly,” he said, “this is a Golden Moment.”

Golden Moments are the silver lining of aging.

I’ve enjoyed Golden Moments with my parents, too.

After I graduated from college in 1980, I never returned home to Pittsburgh. Between my relocation to Troy, NY–my husband’s hometown–and my parents’ moves later in life, I’ve lived anywhere from 500 to 3,000 miles away from them.

When I came in town to visit, I usually didn’t make plans to catch up with friends or to sight-see or take side trips. I preferred to spend my precious little time with my long-distance family.

Once, my sister-in-law asked me, “So what are you going to do while you’re out here?” I was dumbfounded. I wanted to say, “Nothing,” because that was the truth. But it seemed so boring. It seemed small compared to the jet-setting lifestyles of some of my siblings. I can’t remember how I answered.

I’m not suggesting that there’s a right or a wrong way to spend time while visiting family. I wish I had been better about keeping in touch with friends. But I have no regrets about the Golden Moments with my parents. Especially now.

My golden moments give me no regrets.

In their living room at the independent living facility, Mom and Dad sat and held hands for another fifteen minutes, enjoying the silence before going back to bed.

Dad would have followed Mom into the bedroom. He would have put her neck pillow in place and raised or lowered the head of the bed to the perfect angle. He’d have arranged another pillow under her ankles so her painful heels didn’t bear any weight. Then he would have tucked Mom’s favorite pink blanket under her chin and she’d be asleep before Dad made it to his side of the bed.

That evening, after an uneventful day, Mom and Dad again sat on the couch, watching the PBS News Hour. Around 7 PM, Mom stood up, pitched forward, and was probably dead before she hit the floor.

My heart aches that Dad witnessed that scene. I grieve for his loss. I grieve for my family and many friends who loved Mom. I grieve for myself and the loss of my best girlfriend.

I lost my best girlfriend.

Tomorrow, I’ll fly down to visit Dad. Instead of a girls weekend, it will be a father-daughter week. Dad and I will sit on the couch, holding hands, sharing a drink, enjoying our Golden Moments. Mom will join us and I’ll feel her hand in mine. I feel it every day. It’s golden.

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My inner youth has a thrill at the liquor store.

When I look in the mirror lately, there’s a curious older woman looking back.  She has grey hair at the roots, some wrinkles, and two age spots on her cheek.  Oh yeah that’s me, I have to remind myself.

Years ago, before the older woman showed up, when I was well into my 40s, I got carded at a grocery store.  Among the apples, eggs and a family pack of chicken pieces was beer for my husband. It was a day I didn’t have much makeup on, my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I even remember the red shirt I wore.

As my groceries slid down the conveyor belt, the cashier grabbed hold of the 6-pack and asked for my ID.  I glanced up, then turned to the person behind me, thinking the cashier was talking to them.  Nope – they had no beer.  I looked back to the cashier and said with a big smile, “Really?”

But then I thought, OK, this is a scam. I am so gullible, I’m not getting caught this time.  So I looked around for hidden cameras, as I dug in my purse for my license.  A little giddy, I asked the cashier“Is this some kind of a joke?  Are there hidden cameras somewhere?”  She just shrugged, checked my ID, then handed it back. I thanked her profusely and told her she made my day as I floated away inches off the floor.

I came home to brag to my husband. He was happy for me, said of course I looked great, gave me a big hug.  Then he reminded me that stores were now asking for IDs from everyone who looked under 35.

Thud.  (That was the sound of my feet hitting the floor.)  

Oh, that’s right, I thought.  Still, I’ll take it.

Now, I’m in my late 50s. I really didn’t think it would ever happen again.  I thought I would have to settle for NOT being asked for my AARP card.

But, guess what?  It happened again.  Just last week.  I went into a liquor store for a bottle of wine.  The cashier asked to see my ID.  I joked, “Oh, are you asking anyone who looks younger than 60?”

She said, “No! You’re not 60?”

“No, but I’m pushing it,” I answered as I pulled out my license.

She took my ID and made some kind of exclamation, then showed it to the young cashier next to her.  He laughed politely, probably thinking that everyone over 30 looks ancient – what’s the difference in a decade or two.

I did my shtick about hidden cameras, because, really, could she be serious?  I mean, I have been asked if I want the senior discount at the movie theater.  I teased her that it must be a marketing ploy, as I would certainly never buy my wine anywhere else ever again.  As before, I floated out, feet not touching the floor.

It’s nice to know that my inner youth stills shines through from time to time.  I don’t think she’ll show up again in a liquor store – my recent ID thrill was probably my last – and that’s OK.  I’m learning to love my older self in the mirror, wrinkles and all.  She doesn’t look like how I feel, but she’s like a fine wine that gets better with age.  Within her will always be my inner youth.  And I’ll take it.