Mildred (not her real name) is about to celebrate birthday # 101. There’s going to be a party in her honour, organized by the ladies in her coffee club. There will be much laughter and great conversation, presided over by the grand dame herself.
This tiny little lady lives in the apartment she has called home for almost 40 years. Mementoes, faded photographs and time- worn furniture grace her home. She has buried 2 children, 1 husband and has outlived most of her friends. A cumbersome oxygen tank holds pride of place in the narrow hallway, with metres of tubing connecting Mildred to its life-sustaining oxygen. She shuffles around with the aid of her rollator, trailing the tubing behind her, occasionally getting it tangled among her furniture. She needs assistance with the most basic activities of daily living that most of us mindlessly take for granted – dressing, bathing, cooking, cleaning.
In order to stay in her home, Mildred requires a live-in caregiver. Anna (not her real name), a lovely young woman especially sponsored by Mildred from the Philippines, is her support and companion. The affection between the two women is evident; their mutual dependence bonds them together.
Given Mildred’s circumstances, no one would fault her for being reclusive. But Mildred would find that a waste of time and energy. She’s too busy at the rec centre having a coffee and a chat with the girls. She’s too busy getting her hair perfectly coiffed and her nails painted her favourite bright fuchsia. She’s too busy being a popular member of her Synagogue, making sure to buy blankets and sleepers for all the newborns. No dark, sombre clothing for our Mildred. She prefers bright colours of oranges and yellows along with patterns that women much younger than she would shy away from.
Mildred’s attitude to life is one of gratitude. She looks outside of herself and considers the needs of others. She laughs out loud and goes out of her way to do what she can for her neighbour.
Recently, we spoke about her upcoming birthday. She told me that every day is a blessing and that her goal now is to live long enough to help Anna sponsor her family from the Philippines. That’s all she wants – to see her caregiver reunited with her family.
If anyone were to ask Mildred her secret of living a long life, I wonder if her answer would be something like this: love of God, love of neighbour, love of life. Mildred has so much to teach us about living an authentic life.
If I live to be a hundred (and one)…………..I want to be just like Mildred.
Happy birthday great lady. May you continue to inspire, befriend and shine God’s light on us, your neighbours.