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My sisters

By Dalene Rowley

Arriving at the temple a few minutes early, I hastily accepted the welcome I received at the recommend desk, but also wanted to linger in the cool breeze next to the doors. I made my way into the foyer and then I saw them. Not the friends I was intending to meet, but a few of the dear sisters who are part of my ward family. The collective twinkles in their eyes; various shades of white, grey and silver (with maybe a titch of blueing) in their hair; the shadowy wrinkles–born of both furrowed, worried brows and of generous and loving smiles–were beautiful to me. I bowed to gently embrace each one. Four of them. All widows. I have lived here long enough to remember the losses of each one of their respective husbands. Some who went suddenly, unexpectedly in the night. Some who lingered and suffered with illness and pain. I know their children. And some of their grandchildren. Sometimes I contemplate both their joys in their posterities and also the the loneliness inherent in their widowhood.

Lovely, humble, faithful matriarchs, each one.

They are why I sometimes arrive a minute or two late to fulfill my primary calling, as I am wont to stop and hug them every Sunday on my way from the chapel. Mindful (thanks to a commenter on a Segullah post oh so long ago) of the power of touch and the ache of longing for it when one lives alone. They love my children and my family. They always ask about my missionaries (they’re both home now–Hooray!) and my other children by name. They are quick with a loving and encouraging word when we face hard times. They are my sisters. And even generations apart, they are my friends.

I like old people.

Even the crotchety ones.

I still remember some 20 years ago when I did a little housecleaning on the side to help make ends meet. I braved the ancient and antiseptic scent of an elderly couple’s home and their anger when I inadvertently tossed a crust of bread away while cleaning up after their lunch, too naive to understand the frugalness of an entire generation of people who went hungry during the Great Depression. I cleaned their aged teal refrigerators, sinks and toilets (I’m sparing you details here, you’re welcome). I wiped down their plastic-covered floral sofa and chairs. And I tried to be friendly even though I was uncomfortable and they could hardly hear a word I said.

Now, as every day I get closer to halfway to 100, I am mindful that the body ages, but the heart is young. Aside from a mortgage and too much suffering and dying around me, I don’t feel any more a grown-up now than I did at 20. Part of me wants to eat dessert for breakfast, play instead of work, and laugh instead of cry. And sometimes I do. As I recall my dear grandmother’s sharp wit and my grandfather’s penchant for chocolate, I’m sure it can’t be much different at 95 or 98.

Sometimes old people are funny. Sometimes they are ornery. Sometimes they are sad. Sometimes they can be a bit ignorant. Sometimes they are wise. Sometimes we fear them. But that’s probably only truly necessary when we see them driving down the wrong side of the road (I could tell you stories).

My husband Shane had the opportunity to speak at the funeral for one of his uncles. This particular uncle had a reputation as quite the curmudgeon. But in his later years a return to his Savior had softened his heart. (In fact he became close friends with my grandmother when they ended up in the same assisted living center.) As my husband looked out over the congregation–mostly family who hadn’t enjoyed the opportunity we had to spend time with Uncle Hilton in his later years–Shane issued a bold challenge to the younger generations to spend time with old people. Learn to love them. Learn something from them. For they have lived a lot longer and seen a lot more than we have. They have much to teach us if we will get over our fear or discomfort and get to know them.

I try to meet his challenge.

My sweet elder sisters had just finished their weekly shifts serving in the temple. They teased me about hurrying up and getting my children out the door so I could serve there too. I assured them I hope to serve there some day, when the season is right.

As we say our goodbyes, I know I want to be just like them when I grow up.

About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

7 thoughts on “My sisters”

  1. I love the old people in my life. I used to work in aged care and I loved it. I miss it.

    Thank you for hugging the sisters. I know what it's like to live without touch, and I know how touch-starved so many of the elder generation are (and it's good for health, emotional and physical, and immunity and – going off topic, sorry – touch is important, especially for the aged!)

    I hope I grow up to be like them too.

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  2. Loved this piece. Thank you for writing it.

    I desperately miss my grandparents and the older people in my life. Right now, my kids know very few old people. In our ward in NY, very few retire there because it is expensive. And in Riyadh, no retirees in their right mind move their to retire either!

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  3. Thanks for making older adults more visible. I recently left my career teaching college writing in order to study gerontology (aka aging studies). After being alienated from older adults for decades, I'm working to connect with them, preferably on their terms. Thanks for the insights. The older gals in your ward sound like interesting people. Thanks for passing on details about them and their generation.

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  4. I love love love this post. I think that some of the wisest people have to be old women. And yet who is marginalized the very most? Old women. Stupidity on our part to worship the young and neglect to learn from those who have so much to share. As I am aging (only 35), I find that I am reluctant to open my mouth and share the wisdom I've gained on pregnancy, motherhood, etc. with my younger brothers and their wives (one who is 16 years younger than me). They don't want to hear it – they think they know everything and that I am "old". So they will struggle just as I struggled because I wasn't interested in learning anything from those old 30 year olds. HA! Now at 35, I am realizing how much I could gain from listening to my mom and grandma. How much wisdom have we thrown away?!?! We are relearning basic things like nutrition as a society. It's sad.

    I love that Asian cultures respect their elderly. You are raised by your parents, and then you turn around and care for them when they are aged. I love the concept of a home holding multiple generations (except I didn't so much when my mom lived with me for a few years. I am hoping it will be easier next time around when I am not having babies at the same time). Anyways, I often think that "Honor thy father and thy mother" refers more to caring for and respecting our aging parents than it does to obedience when we are young. I just don't think we do a good job of honoring our elders in our society.

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  5. Everyone needs to be loved and cared for no matter hwat there age or status. I recently lost a dear friend who was 95. I had been asked to take her a meal because she was ill, so I did, and I carried on doing that weekly for 5 years. She became a very good friend to me and I looked forward to seeing her. I took the children when it was school holiday time and she just became part of our lives. We could talk about anything. She became like a gran to me and I loved her and knew that she loved me. Some weeks I was her only visitor apart from her carers as most of her family lived a long distance away. I miss her greatly. We need to look after each other. Somtimes I wonder what life will be like for me when I am older and alone.

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  6. Loved this! I'm getting old, 62 and my husband is 74 (and still barefoot waterskiing) but inside we're 20 and madly in love. We're having fun with our 9 kids, their spouses and the 24 grandchildren. You told the secret of old age, you never feel old, but young people see you that way. Luckily for me I always liked old people and I still miss my grandparents like mad, but my parents are still around and in their eighties and still having fun too. Thanks for really seeing your older friends, I'm sure they love you for it!

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