Tomorrow we bury Eliza - a military funeral for an ancient old woman who was an army nurse in the second world war. Eliza, as I know her, was a wizened up old lady with brown creased skin and a scratchy voice. Now that she is dead I find out she was a beauty, a cover girl for the army nurse magazines. She raised her five girls after the death of a husband and lived well to the end.
I have this idea that when a person dies the picture in the paper should be of them in their prime, not their dotage if they have had the privilege of getting there. At death we are neither our old self nor our young self, so why not celebrate and remember a person as they were before decay insulted them?
Eliza will have a full military funeral. She will have her simple casket draped in a flag. Her death is marked by respect and notice, something she may have not known in many of her last years as she moved through culture.
We cannot know if our own death is thundering toward us or creeping stealthily from miles away. What matters, it seems to me, is that our inner landscape is livable. Sometimes we are tired of days and unbeautiful, and other times exploding with laughter and love. Sometimes we and our hearts are tired and find the world inhospitable, others we see a huge vault of treasure in each day. Whatever, this is life at any age.
One of the blessings of aging is that the possibility of becoming kinder and more merciful becomes a reality. It is a privilege to become old. Perhaps a gift of genetics, happenstance, economic privilege, and relationships ... perhaps an ordained state. Either way, I am thinking that to tend the inner landscape while the outer has lurches of deconstruction is a good way to live.
Here's to you, Eliza.