Rose Mary’s Words of Wisdom Upon Growing Old, Part 2

Whether they’re wise or foolish, we very rarely heed other people’s advice or insights, including those of physicians who warn us about salt, exercise and weight!
This story bears repeating: When our friend and former colleague, Helen Ernstes, was in her nineties Johnny, her beloved husband of many years, was terminally ill with lung cancer. One morning, she walked across the rain-slick driveway to get in her car and go visit him at Community East which was five minutes away. She slipped and fell, broke her hip and was hospitalized. Alas, John died that day, and she could not even attend his funeral. She did not openly mourn, but said only with no dramatics, “Johnny was my best friend.”
She had such good health that she had never even had a regular doctor until she broke her hip. She outlived all of her relatives with the exception of two nephews. Growing old themselves, they urged her to move into assisted living in Zionsville to be near them.
She booked a night or two at the facility to make sure she would like it. Within six weeks, she selected the furniture that she wanted to keep, sold her home and moved away from Irvington and her beloved Irvington Presbyterian Church.
I tried to call her, but didn’t reach her for a few months. “I’m so busy that I’m not in my room very much.” she said. “In fact, I have an exercise class in half an hour.” I asked if she were happy there. Her response bear merits repeating: “Of course I’m happy. If you decide to be happy, you will be happy.”
My wise nephew, John Jones, with whom I carry on a continuing dialogue either in person when we occasionally breakfast together at Lincoln Square in Irvington or correspond via e-mail sent this comment about what Helen said:
A shared laugh, watching a grandson climb trees, yesterday’s Easter egg hunt in our yard, family dinners and so much more. What makes us happy changes as we age. Many years ago a Payday candy bar and an orange Nehi soda defined happiness. Now my definition of happiness is a bit more complex but also very attainable. Life is what it is and happiness is where you decide it is.
It takes wisdom and tenacity to overcome a tragedy such as Helen suffered, but we could all do it if we focused on the sweetness of life. Sometimes my declining energy, physical weakness and the loss of what once was and will never be again depress me. For example, I know that I shall never again stride vigorously up a path next to a rushing brook in my beloved Teton Mountains or visit Paris and Florence again. However, I must try to focus on what is here for me.
As King Solomon said in his lovely song, “The time of the singing of birds is come.” One time I saw dozens and dozens of robins in a yard and mentioned it to Bill’s niece, Candy. She wrote back, “We have the same thing happen in our yard. It’s wonderful. You know, it takes very little to make me happy.”
I understand that. When I opened the front door yesterday I heard a wren singing. The return of the wren personifies my mother who loved to hear them and brings me joy. The little creature was perched on a feeder three feet in front of the greenhouse window, and we could see his throat swell and vibrate as he sang.
Oh glory, glory, glory! I must stop typing and look! Dozens of fluffy flamingo-pink clouds are floating in the azure sky. Last week and again this week, we watched a monochromatic sunset that was brilliant orange from South to North. What an inexpensive pleasure!
Dorothy learned in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that happiness is in your own back yard. I must patiently watch for it, recognize it and savor it.