I had an interesting experience about five weeks ago. I needed to change the batteries in the three smoke detectors in my apartment. I change them yearly ( I keep a post-it on the wall in my storage space with the date I last changed them). I don’t want them waking me in the middle of the night screaming when the batteries die.
I had bought batteries. I got out my step ladder, positioned it under the first smoke detector. Climbed to the second step – I’m too short to reach the ceiling from there. I go one step higher – but now there’s not much to grab onto to prevent me from tipping the ladder or losing my balance. I get down, reposition the ladder closer to the doorway, which I can hold as I climb back to the third step to change the battery. I manage to rotate the detector, pull it down, find the battery door, open it, take out the old battery, then fight to put the new batter in. Takes me 5 minutes or so to change that battery. I move on to the second, then the third, both taking less time since by now I have figured things out.
As I descend from the third smoke detector I breathe a sigh of relief – job done. But I also recognize this is the LAST time I am going to do this job myself. I will have to find a younger able neighbour who will do this for me next year!
This was another of those “last time”s I seem to be encountering at this point in my life.
I’m 78. Still exercising three mornings a week at the neighbourhood rec centre. I’m reasonably fit, balance not bad, but after my mattress flipped me onto the floor breaking my wrist and compressing a vertebra two years ago, I catch myself, as I go to do something that could be a bit hazardous, and wonder whether this is the “last” time I do whatever it is, or in fact, was the last time I did it, THE “last” time.
I’ve been thinking about “last” times a lot lately. A year ago I bought an automatic transmission car although I’ve driven a standard stick shift my entire life. I miss shifting gears! But I realized most people don’t know how to drive a standard shift car and were I to be somewhere and find myself not feeling up to driving I’d be stuck unless one or other of the people I’m with can also drive my car. I bought the automatic. It was the sensible thing to do.
I see my world beginning to narrow. I’m probably not going to make that solo drive to Toronto although I love driving long distances on my own; I’ve done many solo long distance trips in my life; but probably not again. Over the past 15 years I’ve travelled to out of way places on my own to join a group interested in textiles without a second thought. The last two times I became ill – fortunately I didn’t require hospitalization, but I know my solo long-distance travelling days are over.
I think this past COVID year and a half has helped me accept how my life plays out from here – taking satisfaction in visiting with friends, enjoying the creative endeavours I undertake, pursuing the iPhone photography in greater depth, making more textile art. I have enjoyed these past 18 months even though there weren’t enough hours in the day to get done everything I wanted to accomplish. I’m getting better at picking up today what I didn’t manage to complete yesterday.
I have longevity in my genetic makeup (at least on my father’s side of the family), so I’m not expecting to wind down anytime soon. However, as Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” reminds us, we all need to be thinking about “end of life” long before an actual end of life arrives.
In the past month I’ve had conversations with two younger friends, both have mothers with dementia, both the daughters with responsibility for making difficult end of life decisions for their parent. Both have had lengthy, searching journeys to get to the place where they are comfortable facing and accepting the near end of life for that parent. I’d suggested they watch Being Mortal on PBS – it has helped each of them take control of the difficult conversations they need to have with medical staff at this point.
I’ve begun keeping a record of my “very last time” moments – not with any sense of foreboding but as an essential aspect of my personal adventure. I’m not exactly slowing down, I’m still getting much accomplished every day, but once in a while I notice that I’ve probably done something I would have tackled without a thought for the “last” time.
I feel like Maggie Muggans – “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow”. Although those “last” times will continue to come along, I know new doors will open when others close. Besides, we ARE living in interesting times!