My wife, Muri, and I are in the midst of a two city coast-to-coast trip to visit our families. We both come from small families that don’t maintain much contact with cousins, so at our age, visiting family means siblings, siblings-in-law, and their offspring. Oh, yeah, and at our age, their offspring’s offspring. Most of Muri’s family is concentrated within driving distance of Boston, so that was our first stop. We spent last weekend there. Monday, we flew to Cleveland, where my tribe lives these days. We are the outliers, having lived in California for 44 years, and while there have been a few West Coast visitors, for the most part if we wanted to see family, we flew East. Both Muri and I have a brother and a sister and in both cases, the middle child is the brother. Muri is the youngest of her siblings and I am the oldest. In an odd bit of symmetry, my kid sister and Muri’s older sister are both dealing with significant dementia, which was one of the reasons we decided to visit at this time.
I was thinking this morning (a sometimes bad habit of mine), contrasting visiting family as a seventyish couple with the days when we were visiting the seventyish parents. Air travel seemed so simple then and we’d arrive full of energy, ready to drive-drive-drive to see an assortment of friends and family. With years instead of weeks between visits, parents seemed to age quickly and as their lives transitioned from from self-sufficient to assisted living and beyond, we watched or facilitated the transitions, confident we knew what was best for them. Now, we listen to nephews and nieces talk knowingly about the transitions of their parents. It’s hard at this point not to say, You really don’t know as much about old age as you think you do. Proceed gently. We are now the slower moving oldsters, set in our ways and uncomfortable out of our routines, and it affects how we relate with our siblings … who are in the same aging boat. Our sisters talk about old times like they were yesterday but can’t remember what we did together the previous day. We do our best to cope with repeated questions and their individual obsessions. We worry vaguely whether the same fate awaits us. We return to our hotel exhausted and at least in my case, achy from too much air travel and driving. I am glad we are here and if you were to ask, Did you have a good trip? I’d probably say, Yes, but with caveats.
If you Google senior travelers, you will find page after page of beaming oldsters, happily traveling the world. You will find pictures like this one:
Aging is indeed an adventure, sometimes a joy and sometimes a scary, dark ride. I suppose if you knew that at forty, you’d never make it to seventy. But I will tell you this, Younger Eyes … the next time you look at your parents and say, How can they be like that? … or an elderly couple slows you down as you dash through the airport … remember that they are explorers on a road that you can only imagine (if you dare). But unless you die young, you will eventually walk that road, too, and you will learn that sometimes putting one foot in front of the other, whether stepping onto a plane or into an assisted living facility, is daring greatly. And heroic.