I’ve Got the Qualified for Medicare Blues

This morning, after I changed my calendars to the new month, I slipped my shiny new Medicare card and my new Blue Shield Medicare prescription card into my wallet. Although my birthday isn’t until next week, the change in health insurance starts today. This is not something I volunteered for. I was perfectly happy with regular Blue Shield. When you turn 65, the U.S. government requires you to switch whether you want to or not. Now I don’t know what is covered and what is not, and I’m not thrilled with the implication that as of today I am old.

Having no children or grandchildren, I don’t have the usual markers of aging. Surely experiences like raising children or watching your daughter give birth mark your progress along the track of life, but that hasn’t happened. No one is coming up behind me with my name and my DNA, nudging me into seniorhood. In many ways, I don’t feel grown up at all. When I see an accurate photograph of myself, I think there must have been a mistake. I get that I’m not the slim, long-haired vixen of 1972, but who is this motherly-looking person staring back at me? And why is she two inches shorter than she used to be? I can tell myself all day long that our bodies are just containers for our spirits, which are ageless, but it’s hard to believe when I’m pretty sure everybody else sees the old woman, not the young spirit. They also think I’m “retired,” but that term is meaningless in my profession.

My birthday, next Thursday, scares the hell out of me. Will I end up celebrating it alone? God, please, not again this year. When I was young and married to a man with a day job, I would typically run away somewhere for the day, a park, a historical monument, a zoo, someplace to explore on my own, then reunite that evening with husband and family for birthday dinner, cake and presents. If this blasted winter weather ever clears up, I could still run away for the day, but there’s no one waiting for me when I get home. That, my friends, is the hell of being childless, widowed and alone.

But nobody knows what’s going to happen in life. I could have had six children and 13 grandchildren and had none of them stick around. Fred could still be alive but not healthy enough to do anything. Or I could be the one who is not healthy and not able to enjoy my birthday. My father will turn 95 on May 1, two months from now. If my brother and I can’t get away from work to make the trip to San Jose, he might be alone, too, despite having two children, two grandchildren and a growing flock of great-grandchildren. You don’t know. Nobody knows.

One of the comments on my recent post about religion noted that the writer believes her life is turning out the way God planned it. I suspect mine is, too. And so will yours. I don’t know if you believe in God or destiny or anything that controls what happens in your life. (Do you? Tell us about it in the comments.) But nobody gives us a copy of the plan, the one that says, at 22, she’ll marry and at 28, that marriage will end in divorce, or at 33, he’ll announce that he doesn’t want kids and you’ll have to decide whether or not to leave him, and you will decide . . . what will you decide?

My therapist, who recently retired, urges clients to do what they’re “drawn to.” In other words, what feels right, what pulls you in, what does your gut say? People ask me what they should do when their partner waffles on the baby question. I really don’t know. I know what I did. Was it a mistake or was that the plan all along?

I know without question that God made me a writer and a musician. I was doing both from a very young age, even though I came from a working class family that did not understand or support the arts. I’m still a writer and a musician with a long history of achievements in both areas. I am not at all sure I could have done those things while raising children. Perhaps I am living the plan, and my solitude at 65 will lead to my best work yet.

Back to you. If you don’t have kids, you could wind up alone. Or you could wind up surrounded by friends, family, stepfamily, co-workers, neighbors, and fans, so many people you wish they would leave you alone. Nobody knows. However it turns out, you will deal with it. Will you regret it if you don’t have children? Yes, sometimes you will. But will there be other rewards? Yes, I’m sure of it.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here. You are a wonderful gift to me every day of the year.

Being Childless Doesn’t Mean Ending Up Alone

Two women in my extended family made it to 100 years old. One had children; the other did not. But when they celebrated their centennial birthdays, both were surrounded by loving family.

The woman who had children was Ruth, my husband’s ex-mother-in-law, maternal grandmother to Fred’s children. She turned 100 last weekend. Her daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter gathered at a posh restaurant to celebrate. In the Facebook photos, she looks happy, alert and ready to go on for another decade.
Although we have no direct connection these days, when Fred was around and his kids were young, we occasionally spent time with Ruth and her late husband Walt. They were always kind to me and included me as one of the family. Divorce doesn’t always dissolve the links between people; sometimes it adds more links. Ruth lives these days in a senior residence in Santa Clara, California, not too far from her family. I wish her many more happy times in her long life.
Edna Sousa at 100
The woman who did not have children was Aunt Edna, my mother’s favorite aunt, married to Mom’s Uncle Tony. I’m not sure why they didn’t have children. I have heard rumors of miscarriages and failed attempts to get pregnant. When Aunt Edna was young, people didn’t have all the medical options they have now, but they also didn’t talk about such things, so we don’t really know what happened.
Aunt Edna was a whirlwind of energy, stylish, bold, and always on the go. She worked in the office at a local cannery for many years. My mother worked with her until she got pregnant with me and retired to motherhood and life as a housewife. But Aunt Edna kept going. She worked, she had a busy social life, she volunteered for the church, and she loved her nieces and nephews. She was always surrounded by friends and family. Uncle Tony died relatively young of cancer, but Aunt Edna stayed in their house. Down the street, in her own house, lived her sister Virginia, who never married or had children. She too was a “career girl,” working at San Jose State most of her life. After they retired, the two sisters traveled the world, seeing just about every country. At home, they gathered with their vast network of in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews.
By the time Aunt Edna turned 100, she too was living in a senior residence, only a couple miles from where Ruth lives. Her dark hair had turned into a fluffy white cloud, her memory was fading, and she didn’t walk as well as she used to, but she was never alone. For her birthday party, the family rented a banquet room at a local restaurant and completely filled it with people who loved Edna. It was the climax of a wonderful life.
Edna died a few months later. A crowd attended the funeral, among them Virginia, now in her 90s, still living in her own home with help from a caregiver.
Some of us without children worry that we’ll end up alone, but we don’t have to. Even if we never have children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, we can be like Edna and love the people we have around us and be loved by them, knowing that when we turn 100 years old, we will not be alone.