I had a chance to visit with a lovely 92 year old woman named Francis yesterday afternoon as a part of my wife’s visit with an old friend. Francis is the mother-in-law of my wife’s friend and had come along on the trip. Until last year, Francis had been living in New York state . She’s now living with her son and daughter-in-law in Arkansas.
It was great to learn of Francis’s life and family. Her life has taken many twists and turns and has been shaped by such diverse forces as the great depression of the 1930’s, World War II, and the women’s movement. One of the things that impressed me about Francis is how sharp and attentive she is. My expectations of a 92 year old are of diminished senses and slow responses. This was not the case with Francis.
When I asked Francis about what she is doing with herself to stay busy in her new home she mentioned her memory is not as good as it used to be and that she really hasn’t gotten into too many activities. I let the remark pass without too much thought. The comment came back to me later as Francis periodically repeated herself and its meaning was clarified later in the visit when Francis pointed out how beautiful New York is in the fall in response to her daughter-in-law’s suggestion we come to visit them in Arkansas.
As I reflected on my time with Francis I tried to put her memory loss in context. Francis is very likely on a path of increased memory loss and her memory may likely fail her completely before she dies. At this point however Francis is a wealth of wisdom and experience from a life well lived. The millions of Francis’s in the world still have much to share, and we have much to learn, about relationships, hard work, dealing with change, and all sorts of things I don’t even have the experience to think of. It was an honor to be with Francis and it would be a great loss if the wisdom she has accumulated in her ten decades of life were overlooked because her short-term memory is not what it once was.