I said goodbye to my friend Ana yesterday. She was funny, she was fabulous, she knew her way around a good mani. And she was 90.
Ana was my next-door-neighbour for about six years. For the first three, she was little more than ‘the old lady next door’ I’d sometimes wave to as I’d speed off in my car to work. The same old lady who would ever so slooooowly walk to church each Sunday, blocking the path for my husband and me on our quest for a Grande Latte and a Bacon & Egg Roll after a ‘Big One’ the night before.
With Ana a couple of months ago on her 90th birthday.
She’d often invite us into her warm, inviting – yet crazily quirky – home. With her clippings of Princess Diana stuck to her walls with sticky tape, the cuckoo-clock that’d chime on the quarter of each hour, and the lingering scent of a rich East European meal in the air, it was, to say the least, a foreign environment to me. Not helped by the fact that she hardly spoke any English, and the clock on the wall tick-tocked-ticked – loudly – measuring the minutes that I’d spent there. So we didn’t catch up that often. Was simply a strange fit in my fast-paced life.
Yet one day, I found myself perched on one of her yellow vinyl covered swivel bar chairs, dipping a Kingston biscuit into a cup of tea, and telling her I was pregnant.”
Besides my husband, she was the first person I’d told – I figured, because our interactions were mostly comprised of head movements, hand actions and statico dialogue that she’d be the safest person to ‘test’ the news out on – to see how it felt to say out-loud. But she smiled, nodded, and kept fuffing about the kitchen.
Confused that she wasn’t as shocked and thrilled as we were, and thinking she didn’t understand, I repeated our news: “we’re having a baby!” Again, she smiled her warm, crinkly smile, and looked at me knowingly with her cornflower-blue eyes: “I is very happy for you” she said. And then she offered me a Tim Tam.
So that’s pretty much how our relationship went from then on. She’d beckon me in (usually when I was in a rush to head out somewhere), I’d pop in (just for a sec), down a cup of tea, often spill my guts as that clock on the wall tick-tocked-loudly, and she’d respond with her warm, crinkly, knowing eyes, a cool pat on the hand, and the offer of another biscuit. I’d always leave her home calmer, happier, not that sure what we really spoke about, but with a contented feeling in my belly.
Ana didn’t mind that our visits got more and more boisterous as the boys grew older.
And as we drove away from the church where Ana’s funeral was held today, my little boy wanted to understand why she died. I tried to explain that she was quite old, and our bodies are just not designed to keep working so well after a certain age. Because he’s into facts, I added that the average age women live till in Australia is 84.
“So was Ana above average?” my son asked.
“Yes indeed she was.” I replied.
And here, in the context of Fox in Flats – where we share tips and ideas to make it easier to navigate motherhood in style – I’d like to share what I learnt from my friend Ana, and what made her so fabulously ‘above average’.
1. Make new friends.
Ana taught me that it doesn’t matter your age difference, the country you are born in, or the language you speak. Being open to new friendships can open you to rich new experiences that may have never otherwise occurred.
2. Go against the rules.
Everytime we’d visit Ana, she’d drag out packets of creamy biscuits, jam-filled cakes, sugary soft drink, and boxes of chocolates, to give to our little boys. The kids were in heaven. And knowing we’d soon be dealing with super-hyped up kids followed by tantrums and tears we’d try to tell Ana our ‘rules’ about sweets and treats – the usual parent stuff about limiting how much they have and when they can have it. Ana would smile and laugh (yup, accompanied by those warm, crinkly, knowing eyes again) and to our eye-rolling frustration, she’d ignore us. Yet the bright-eyed faces of the boys stuffing their chubby cheeks with her food-love explained why she did it.
3. Walk, daily.
Move it or lose it they say, and Ana listened. Until only a few months ago, she’d be doing her soft-shoe shuffle down the road to Mass every morning – despite the 800m walk taking her 30 minutes – not counting stops to pause for breath. Makes my excuses for not exercising look pretty lame.
4. Don’t accept the status quo.
Ana had various ailments in her body over the years – obviously there’s years of wear and tear happening as we age. She’d always have a slight look of shock and bewilderment on her face if she was sick in any way, slightly outraged that her body wasn’t up to doing what she’d want it to do. And she was open to seeking alternative treatments and opinions to sort her health issues out. From seeing acupuncturists, to using home-spun remedies handed down through generations, she was open to it all (I’ll never forget the day she unwrapped a bandage around her swollen knee to reveal sliced up onion pressed against her skin – and yes, I googled it, and apparently it works a treat on inflammation and swelling. Who knew?!) The lesson? There’s no need to accept that as we age we must suffer.
5. Laugh, often.
Especially with little children and at their over-protective parents (see point 2.)
And be proud of all those smile lines. They’re the sign of a good life.
Rest in Peace lovely friend.
Do you have a friendship with someone much older than yourself? And what lessons have you learnt?