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Five little words

Five little words

Westina Matthews Shatteen '70 March 15, 2017

Reflections From Along the Wilmington River – January 10, 2017

“I am 97, not 98,” she gently corrected me. “I was born in 1919.”

I quickly did the math in my head, and realized my great aunt, who is like a mom to me, was correct. I had aged her by a year since her birthday five months ago. In this season of her life, every day counts.

Ten days before Christmas, I had flown into Indiana to spend a few days with her. We were seated in her small apartment living room in a seniors’ independent living community — she on the couch with one cat curled up in her lap, the other cat nestled on the seat of her walker nearby, and I sitting in one of the two chairs. A 3-foot pre-lit, pre-decorated artificial tree stood on a table by her couch. Quietly we watched the snow fall outside her window, enjoying our time together.

“You know what I miss most?” she asked, breaking the silence.

Shaking my head slowly as I turned toward her, I was curious as to what she might say. Her house? Driving? Her husband? Clear vision? Mobility? Good health? Gourmet cooking? Which would it be?

“I miss who I was,” she whispered.

There it was, the truth suspended in the air between us, as we oh-so-carefully and gingerly navigated crossing the tightrope of her life, hearts clinging to the balancing pole of the inevitable, with no net below to catch us should we fall. Five little words: She missed who she was.

I nodded, not sure what to say or even if I should say anything. The cat resting in her lap stretched lazily and purred; the other meowed in response. We continued to watch the snow falling on the tall pine trees outside her window, two snow birds flitting in and out of the branches, as I waited to see if she would say more.

No other words followed. It would seem that she had said all that she needed to say in those five little words.

I miss who I was.