There’s a lady in my chorus who makes me terrified of getting old. G. is an excellent alto and can hold her own when all other altos are absent, but she is really losing her mind.
Every time we are starting a new song, G. will say, “what number is that?” followed by “oh, I don’t think I have that one.” She spends a few minutes looking through her binder, then throws her hands in the air in an exasperated gesture. If others try to help, she gets frustrated and snippy. “I know where it is!” she’ll say.
G. doesn’t drive. Even though someone arranges the day before rehearsal to pick her up, she’ll call around an hour before it starts to see who is coming to get her.
She’s really a sweet old lady – thin and soft spoken, with curly gray hair. We spoke for a while after rehearsal Monday night as she sipped her tea and I clung to my cup of coffee.
G.’s husband, Ivar, died last year. A few nights ago, she said, she got up in the middle of the night and started looking for him.
“Ivar, why don’t you come to bed?” she called out.
It took her a little while to realize he wasn’t there, and that he wouldn’t be coming to bed. She went back to bed, alone.
“It’s really hard to be by yourself,” she said, voice trembling.
I can’t write this without crying, and it was really hard to think of what to say while we stood there in the little church hall, face to face, but so many generations apart.
“Where are your kids?” I finally asked. “Do they live nearby?”
I had heard from another chorus member that G.’s children don’t visit her very often; she is frequently alone during holidays. The kids don’t seem to know what is going on with their elderly mother, the chorus friend said.
She slowly dug to the bottom of her pocketbook and pulled out a wallet with photos of her parents, husband, son, daughter and her two grandchildren.
“She’s a dancer,” G. said proudly, pointing to a girl in her early teens.
After she told me the story of how she and Ivar met – he was the brother of her best friend’s husband, and the first time he asked her out she said “no” – I asked her how long they were married.
“55 years and four days,” she said, without hesitation.
They celebrated their last anniversary in the hospital, G. said.
“He was supposed to come home from the hospital that Saturday,” she said. “When I called to find out what time he was coming home… I said ‘I am Mrs. J.’ and the nurse said ‘Well, Ivar J. passed away this morning.’”
He wasn’t coming home.
So, not only is this a piece about my fear of getting old, it is a piece about my fear of being alone. But I guess it happens to everyone, sooner or later.