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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Round and round the seasons. The blessings of a long life with my parents.

 This grainy picture of my parents was taken by a stranger. He was so moved seeing my dad with his arm around my mom, he felt compelled to capture it. That stranger and his wife are now friends with my parents.  This grainy picture of my parents was taken by a stranger. He was so moved seeing my dad with his arm around my mom, he felt compelled to capture it. That stranger and his wife are now friends with my parents.

I have always loved to sing. It’s an appreciation and a gift I received from my parents. I sang along with them at home, I sang in the church youth group, in my high school choirs, at the coffee house on my college campus. I sang to my sons until the pre-teen years abducted their appreciation of it.

When I discovered Joni Mitchell’s song Circle Game in 1970, I was 12. It’s a song about the season’s of a boy’s youth. The “circle game” is a carousel – a merry-go-round- of time passing by. I memorized the lyrics and sang the song incessantly. My five siblings probably still hate it. But my parents encouraged my singing, as they encouraged all their children to celebrate their gifts.

My dad turns 85 this week. My mom is 84. With every revolution of my life’s circle game, they have accompanied me through its ups and downs.

Just yesterday, a child wondered at the world,                                                                   sometimes fearful of it.

I remember being 4 or 5, standing outside on a warm summer night, my dad crouched down to my level. He had his arm around me and pointed up to the dark sky, showing me the man in the moon. It scared me and I cried. My dad hugged and comforted me. Through many seasons and times of darkness, his hugs have bolstered me.

At 10, a child dreams of someday.

When I was 10, I came across an old newspaper clipping that my mom had saved. Our home was featured in the House of the Week section, which included a list of our family members. I was described as “Perky Karen, 6.”  Reading it at 10, I felt old, so sadly nostalgic. I ran to my mom, sobbing, “I want to be Perky Karen, 6, again!”  My mom assured me that being a mature and wise 10 was even better, and promised that 11 could be grander still. Through the subsequent decades, she has dried many of my tears and nurtured my dreams of someday.

Sixteen seasons pass so quickly.

I never could do a cartwheel, being the chunky kid in the family. At 16, I was fat, full of self-loathing for my body and the binge eating that bloated it. In the 1970s, there were no cute, trendy fat girl clothes. So my mom, a skilled seamstress, bought special patterns, altered them, sewed and ripped-out and re-sewed seams to help me “fit in” – in the clothes and in my world.  My mom never lost sight of the beautiful girl inside me, even though it would be many turns of the circle until I saw her, too.

When I participated in a summer drama program late in my 16th year, I wanted desperately to attend the summer’s-end party. But the celebration was late at night on the other side of town with no parking nearby. My driving and direction skills were poor. So my dad drove me there and slept in the car until the wee hours of the morning, while at the party, I kissed a boy. Through all the twists and turns of my life, my dad has shown his unique, sometimes quirky brand of love. Not once have I doubted its truth.

Twenty years spin by. Some dreams lose their grandeur                                                                but other dreams are yet to be discovered.

At 20, I was in college with dreams of becoming a child psychologist. That dream never came true, but there have been plenty of new and better ones. Joni Mitchell ends her song when the boy is twenty. My circle game has continued almost another four decades to include marriage, motherhood and career, all rife with joy and pain.

As my sense of self evolved through each up and down in my life, my relationship with my parents evolved as well. That’s the blessing of having parents around for a long time. As I grow, my relationship with them grows. As our relationships grows, I grow. It’s another circle of life.

We’ve had some wobbles as the years spin by, but the journey has taken us to a richer place. It’s like sitting on the bench on a carousel, then standing up, getting your footing, and stepping forward to mount the gilded stallion. It’s tricky. But once you get there, it’s so worth holding on.

See the complete lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game here.