I’m writing this in a dentist’s waiting room while my friend Pat has dental surgery. The nurse has gone over a daunting list of post-op instructions. Medications, meals, bleeding, pain. She’ll be loopy for a while, so I can’t let her drive or make important decisions. I have her purse and her medications here next to me. Shades of taking care of my dad and my husband through their various medical procedures.
Before I left home this morning, Pat sent me a text: Emergency: bring TP. So I did. That’s what friends are for.
You might think Pat is childless and alone like me, but no. She has a wonderful husband who happens to be recovering from back surgery at a rehab facility right now. She has two grown children and a stepson, plus seven grandchildren who all love her very much, but none of them live nearby. When it comes to this sort of situation, I’m her person, and she is mine. She has seen me through colonoscopies, endoscopies and two cataract surgeries and will be there for whatever comes next. And frankly, I’d rather have Pat around than most of my family.
For those readers who are worrying about who will take care of you in your old age, the answer is: friends. If you wind up without spouse or children, if you don’t happen to live with or near other family members, you will look to your friends. The people you see most often will take care of you, and you will take care of them. They won’t mind you asking for help. They’ll be miffed if you DON’T ask.
I’m terrible at asking for help. I was raised to take care of things by myself, but there are some things you just can’t do alone—like driving home after surgery. If you have a good friend, she will be there. And it will have nothing to do with having children because they’ll be off living their lives and expecting their parents to live theirs.
If you don’t have any friends, you need to work on that. Strike up a conversation, ask someone to lunch, go for a walk together, friend them on Facebook. If I can do it, so can you.
I’m not saintly, for anyone thinking that. I am so grateful it’s not my mouth they’re working on right now. I’m feeling a little righteous about my healthy teeth. I hate the way this place smells of chemicals and disinfectant and the way the women at the desk keep whispering to each other. I am not fond of the sound of the drill and the suction hose. I’ll be glad to get out of here. But this is what you do. You help your friends.
Bottom line: Don’t worry. If you never have children, you won’t be alone.