My 99-year old grandma continues to inspire me. Ten years ago, when she was still nimble on her feet and energized in her body, she decided to close up her city apartment, sort through all her belongings and move to a home for aged people a few city blocks away. She downsized everything to fit in her new one-room abode. She wanted to do this before she had to. So that she could save someone else having to move her. So that she could take care of her accumulated stuff, clear house and deal with it all herself.
She continues to this day. On an ongoing basis, she clears her things — clothes, photos, this and that. Emptying, sifting, letting go. Emptying, emptying.
I was laughing with her today over the phone, “Soon you’ll be down to nothing!” I say. “I know”, she replies. I just don’t need this stuff anymore. You know, when you’re my age, really, when will I get round to wearing a jacket I still haven’t worn? My sense of time has changed. Now when I look ahead, I ask myself, will I wear this or need that in the next year or so? And if not, well, I really don’t need it around anymore.”
When she dies, we will have very little, if anything to deal with at the level of objects. We will be freed to feel her passing, our loss, her life, our grief, without the burden of stuff. She already gave me the wooden statue of Mary my granddad carved 20 years ago. My daughter has already received the lovely jewelry she coveted. My mum already has the photos of my grandma’s childhood, precious to her. And so on…
My grandma doesn’t wait for change. She senses it and acts. She is connected with the future, with whisperings of what is to come. I find this so refreshing. And rare. Don’t most of us wait to get shoved into our next iteration? We wait till we have to, and in the case of our death, often leave behind crazy amounts of stuff for our loved ones to pour through, sift, sort and organize?
She matches this external clearing with her internal process. In our weekly calls we chat about her death as casually as about the weather. We talk about how she’d love to die, as many of us, peacefully in her sleep. I visualize this with her. We talk about how ready she is. She finds herself gradually pulling back from daily affairs, news, books etc. And simultaneously she is so here, alert and present. She cares and is interested in the current happenings of our lives. She loves my daughter so fully and is interested in her well-being, she who lives and breaths at the other end of the life spectrum.
So, I take my grandma’s ways and let them inspire me. I share them today to inspire you. How can we listen to the future, not with angst or as an escape from our Now, but with a leaning toward and welcoming of what is to come? Carving ourselves out to make space for the new, the next. Emptying and spring cleaning for the Eternity we are all enfolded in, and on our way toward. Not leaving that job, which is each of our’s to do, to someone else.
Thank you Grandma, for your modelling of a way to age and spring clean with your eyes wide open. I gladly follow these footsteps of yours.