Late last week I received an email from someone who read my posting from May 17th. The title of that posting was: "Let's Face It, We are All Getting Older." Bilerico Project performed another miracle for me in letting me know the sad resolution of a great pair of friends from which I hope all who read this learn that we do not plan to fail, but we fail to plan. The picture you see is of the four of us on the Zambezi River headed to what was an incredible safari.
To my horror, disgust, and sadness, my friends Wilfred and John did not die three years ago, but just nine and four months ago respectively at ninety-one and ninety-three. I was contacted by the one family member of John's who cared about them, and she had only spent time with them on four occasions. Still, I immediately knew who this was, because John and I had spoken of her and he described her as the brightest light of intelligence he had found in his family.
The last I knew they were moving to Wilfred's daughter's home in a specially built "granny flat" following the sale of their condo. The niece told me that due to failing eyesight they were being ill cared for by housekeepers/caregivers in the condo right down to being left physically dirty as they ate food they could no longer tell was unwholesome. She told me:
"We stayed for lunch which was an almost inedible chicken casserole and indeed pudding that we had to stop them from eating as it had three types of mold growing on it. They could no longer see this much."
She talked her great uncle John into putting the condo up for sale, but had to go back to England with her husband and family too soon to see them settled. The simplest thing, walking on the beach, they had not done because they could not see to do so. The niece walked with both her great uncle and "Auntie Wilfred."
"I was the only one in the family who gave a damn and I only met them four times."
They had already been refused admittance to a nursing home as a same sex interracial couple. Moving to Wilfred's daughters home was to be the solution, but it proved to be a further nightmare. They had a homophobic falling out, but still had a trusted straight family who took them in who were good friends. When Wilfred died John moved in with a gay man and his partner who also served as John's "financial adviser." Whether John knew it or not he signed over all his property to this person. We do not know how he spent his last days because, like many elderly infirm, he was isolated and did not have as little as access to a phone.
John's surviving contemporary relatives have told the niece to mind her own affairs. Her father has told her that Uncle John "made his own bed..." and no one from Wilf's family has been heard of since there is no money to attract their attention.
I wrote her back to have a scotch and celebrate the best of their well lived lives. Remember with gratitude that they were only five months parted from one another and that is everything. I am sending this niece a copy of a book John wrote that is long out of print entitled: "Against the Tide." In that it is gay themed literature John never mentioned it to his own family, but the niece had read it during one of her visits to them in South Africa.
Successful living as well as successful aging means a certainty of accepting loss. After I lost track of my friends I assumed that they were gone and now I have to grieve their loss once again. To any of you I say once again plan out the end of your life with equal interest that you would plan out a two week vacation. It will take longer than two weeks, but don't let it just happen to you day by day.
The last thing I wrote to the niece:
"It is wonderful that you care about John and Wilf and how they spent their days. Let me assure you that they spent most of them laughing, loving and alive for one another. Please remember them that way. I know that this is what they would have wanted. Also, try not to judge your relatives too harshly. I assume that if they are in the vicinity of your parent's age and up they have lost friends, health and family and have become immune to the intensity it brings to you. People are very imperfect and I applaud your desire to expect the best of them. I try and keep that same optimism, I am selfish you see, and it makes me happy to look for the best in others rather than look for their flaws. If I waste my time doing that, I am not living myself, so don't let it happen to you."
If just one person who reads this begins thinking of a plan for aging well the point of this posting will have been achieved.