After having been widowed at the age of 58, the home that we had lived in felt as empty as it was before we moved in. More than my own presence, I felt his absence. He was the kind of person who would never run out of a topic to talk about. He was my home in that house. I used to write in my youth. It’s my stories that got published in the biweeklies that brought him to me.
He would always tell me that I have to go back to writing, that I’d find my peace there. But with kids, my priorities changed. I was happy, nevertheless. After they moved out and went about with their own lives, I had time to prioritize things the way I’d like. I divided my time between reading and conversing with my husband.
After his demise, the emptiness of the house started creeping into me. His armchair, which he used to carry around to be seated right next to me no matter which room I was in, became my favourite piece of furniture. My niece moved in with me shortly after, until she got married, which was three years later.
I had been staying alone for six months, writing a few stories occasionally, visiting my children once in a while, when I was invited by a good old friend to visit her for a few days. It was one of the good things that happened in my life. She lived at ASHA Senior Living.
I didn’t see an old woman awaiting the last day of her life in her. She was as energetic as a 67 year old could be. We woke up early in the morning and had yoga sessions. As I was a yoga enthusiast myself, doing it alongside someone who loves it as much, was much more gratifying than doing it alone.
Though I always preferred home cooked food, a curated spread of good food was appealing as I didn’t have to stick to one plate of sprouted greens alone. I could have a portion of salad, a little yogurt and a fruit smoothie as well.
She told me that her favourite time of the day is the few hours before dusk when she would sit with a few of her friends from the community. I met an artist whose career kick- started a year after she came there, at the age of 59. Interestingly, she hadn’t tried painting until her early fifties!
There was a cheerful military veteran, who said that being a teetotaller all his life was more daunting than being in the army. He was very jovial, unlike the demeanour I would expect from an army man. There was a woman who retired as Principal. She remembered her naughtiest students even after years of service and told us a few tales that had us laugh our lungs out. I spent an hour or two with them. When you’ve the best time, you don’t check the time.
Once we were back to her apartment from the lush green lawn, I asked her what brought her to that retirement home. She smiled and told me that there were things she thought she couldn’t do because she was past that time of her life. She was a busy surgeon in her prime years. Being idle was very unlike her and that was why years before her voluntary retirement, she had her retirement life meticulously planned out. She would move in to a retirement home, travel often, meet new people and learn new things.
She bought an apartment in this condominium a few months before her retirement. Here, she met her new yoga teacher who was in her sixties. When asked, the teacher said, ‘there are some yoga poses that I can’t do’, she paused for a second, smiled at my friend and said, ‘yet’.
That was a moment of reckoning for her. Our mind will take us places our body would not. We’re never unworthy of a vibrant, joyous life. The evenings spent with her friends became her favourite part of the day because that’s when she learns time and again that those conversations are food to her soul. She laughed heartily every evening, listening to stories that were heart-warming and thought-provoking at once.
It was then that I realized that life can start at 50, or 65, or 70. The meaning of life and the definition of happiness will definitely evolve with you and your experiences. At this point of my life, happiness meant being with people whose stories resonated with mine. It meant looking forward to the days ahead as the ‘best days’, instead of ‘remaining days’.
It has been three years since that day happened. I would forever be grateful to her for having invited me over and gifted me with some wonderful moments that made me look at life from a very different angle. I’d made my decision to move to ASHA Senior Living well before I bid goodbye to her and the new friends I made.