Last week we did an exercise where we put a circle in the middle of a piece of paper which we labeled "me". In smaller circles around that we put our identities. My smaller circles were writer, wife, traveler, mother, friend, affluent person, organizer, listener, connector, matriarch, recovering person, planner, sage, and seeker.
For this week, we were asked to describe our life with two of our identities changed to something else. I picked wife and affluent person, changing them to widow and person with limited resources. It's likely that what I wrote isn't accurate in real life, but it's what came to mind as I wrote a fictional letter to my children.
Here's what I said:
It’s ironic that I wrote a blog for ten years called “Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting”. See, when I retired, I was worried I wouldn’t have the resources to live without a salary. And for that ten years, it seemed like a frivolous title for a blog. I took nearly a hundred trips - some with your dad, some with a friend. We had five pensions and money in investments, so we could pretty much do what we wanted. Life was good.
Then the you-know-what hit the fan. Along with the crushing downturn in the economy which erased more than half of our investments, your dad had that stroke. Though his mind remained clear to the end, he required 24-hour care for five years. Most of you stepped in to help me, but you have your lives, after all, and after a while most of the work fell on me. I was willing to do for your dad, even though he was often angry and less than kind to me, but once I got sick myself I couldn’t do it any more. A few of you helped me find a good place for your dad to live. But it was expensive. By the time he passed quietly in his sleep, most of our money was gone. And two of his three pension ended when he died.
So, here I am, with not much left. I sold the big house, but with the economy being what it was, I only got about half of what it had been worth just a few years before.
I’m surprisingly content, though. My little place in Tucson is plenty of space for me. My car is still running well, knock on wood. The AC is set to go on at 84 rather than 77 - it’s a little warm, but it makes a big difference in the electric bill. I transferred the Sedona timeshare to your sister Laura and let the maintenance payment lapse on the one in Canada. They say my credit will be hit, but at this point I don’t think it will matter. And there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.
After years of ordering books and merchandise on Amazon, I’ve rediscovered the public library and made the acquaintance of local thrift shops. With the weight loss I experienced in the last year of your dad’s life, I’m finding clothes that look pretty good on me. That’s turned out to be a blessing; as you know, my weight problem bothered me for many years, but I never found the right combination of things to deal with it. Grief will do that, though.
I have the kindest, most supportive friends you can imagine here in Tucson - so different from the social situation in Washington, where it’s hard to make friends. My days here are busy and interesting. And while I miss your dad very much, there’s a kind of freedom in being able to make my own decisions and live in the quiet of my own space.
I remember when we were comfortable financially that I wondered how people living on small incomes - like just Social Security - would manage to exist. I saw a big gap between the haves - even in our own family - and the have nots. I wondered if we would have to take care of the have nots, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. If they’d made unwise choices - or at least choices I wouldn’t have made - why should I take them in? Like the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.
Now I guess it doesn’t matter. If we end up with very few material possessions, but we’re safe and warm and fed and have friends we love and activities we enjoy, what difference does it make whether we blew it all during our life or whether we lost it all in our later years? So much of my old attitudes have kind of dissolved - especially my tendency to judge others who are different from me.
I may have very little now. But I am definitely not a bag lady.