Barbara Macdonald on aging and death

We never really know the beginning or the middle, until we have lived out an ending and lived on beyond it. Of course, this time, for me, I am not going to live beyond this ending. The strangeness of that idea comes to me at the most unexpected moments and always with surprise and shock; sometimes, I am immobilized by it. Standing before the mirror that morning, I feel that my scalp is tight. I see that the skin hangs beneath my jaw, beneath my arm; my breasts are pulled low against my body; loose skin hangs from my hips, and below my stomach a new horizontal crease is forming over which the skin will hang like the hem of a skirt turned under. A hem not to be ‘let down,’ as once my skirts were, because I was ‘shooting up,’ but a widening hem to ‘take up’ an old garment that has been stretched. Then I see that my body is being drawn into the earth—muscle, tendon, tissue and skin is being drawn down by the earth’s pull back to the loam. She is pulling me back to herself; she is taking back what is hers…I think a lot about being drawn into the earth. I have the knowledge that one day I will fall and the earth will take back what is hers. I have no choice, yet I choose it…uncertainty will not always be there, for this is like no other experience I have ever had—I can count on it. I’ve never had anything before that I could really count on. My life has been filled with uncertainties, some were not of my making and many were: promises I made myself I did not keep; promises I made others I did not keep; hopes I could not fulfill; shame carried like a weight heavier each year, at my failure, at my lack of clear purpose. But this time I can rely on myself, for life will keep her promise to me. I can trust her. She isn’t going to confuse me with a multitude of other choices and beckon me down other roads with vague promises. She will give me finally only one choice, one road, one sense of possibility. And in exchange for the multitude of choices she no longer offers, she gives me, at last, certainty. Nor do I have to worry this time that I will fail myself, fail to pull it off. This time, for sure I am going to make that single-handed crossing.

From “Do You Remember Me?” in Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging and Ageism by Barbara Macdonald with Cynthia Rich (Spinsters, Ink, 1983) pp. 23-24.

Originally published on FR on 2/12/2008

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