My wife’s beloved Aunt Mary died in Daytona last week and today we drove down to help sort out her things. Her last residence was a senior-living compound designed more for efficiency than aesthetics. Her apartment was at the end of a long corridor of identical doors. Some doors still had Christmas wreaths up; one had a sign in a shaky hand: “Keep door closed! Bad Cat!!” The smell of cafeteria food had drifted up to the second floor. Someone had been smoking near the stairwell, no doubt in violation of several regulations.
This is where we’re all headed, in time. Theresa’s aunt handled it better than most because she was an eternal optimist, relentlessly denying the demands of age and infirmity, active and sociable right up to the end. I last saw her at Thanksgiving. She seemed to enjoy the food and company and wine as much as anybody. You can’t mourn too much for somebody who has a long full life and then passes on just in time to be spared the last, worst indignities of old age. But standing in her little apartment, surrounded by the little things that made her life her own, it was easy to feel the loss of someone who probably made the world a better place just by being in it.
I’ve sometimes thought that eternal optimists are kind of blind, incapable of seeing the world as it is. My Mom is one. My wife is one. My wife’s aunt was another. They keep insisting against all evidence that things are not as bad as they seem. They gather up those lemons and make some semblance of lemonade every time. I’ve often found it annoying.
But lately I do appreciate what a blessing it is to to be genetically incapable of despair. This is what separates those who abide from those who don’t. I think it’s the difference between those who die loved and those who die alone. Reduced circumstances come to all of us, sooner or later. Standing in Apartment 247 today, amid the remnants of a life well lived, I could definitely see the advantage of refusing to acknowledge it.