Illustration by Hanna Barczyk
Until the last couple of years, my life was not drastically different from the New York lives of many of my friends. I married and divorced (after twenty-four years) my college boyfriend, had three great kids, made a good living writing and reporting.
When I was 71, I met and married a remarkable man, a lawyer and naturalist who became a volunteer educator at the Cloisters. We went white water rafting in Utah, on safari in Tanzania, and relished together the cultural smorgasbord that is New York.
Then my life changed.
After nine deeply happy years, Ed began to develop Alzheimer’s. He gradually lost himself, dying in 2016.
Then, just months after, my daughter Kathy died, after a brave fight with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor. Kathy was my best friend and confidant. She phoned me every day. She designed a walk for me in Central Park, because she thought I wasn’t getting enough exercise. Once, when I fell in the street, she arrived before the ambulance. With Kathy living nearby, it felt safe to grow old.
My life darkened. It deadened. I stopped reading because I didn’t want to think or reflect. I stopped exercising. For many months I stopped going out of the house except to shop for food—and go to a therapist. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone or doing anything.
One thought finally forced me out of my chair: These are the years I have. If I became ill and was forced to remain indoors, unable to breathe in fresh air, walk on the streets, be among people, I would hate it. Why do it to myself?
I went out the door. And back to Kathy’s exercise walk—although, at first, I always saw her sweet face in front of me. I discovered that grandchildren actually answer if you text them—instead of leaving phone messages they don’t listen to or emails they don’t read.
Kathy’s son James texted: Go take a trip around the world! (Not likely, but it’s nice to know he thinks I can do it.) My granddaughter Rachel and I text and talk regularly. My grandson Alex suggests plays we should—and do—see together.
I’ve gone back to gym class. I’ve gotten wireless earbuds and I’m listening to Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth as I walk. Yesterday, I had dinner with Electra Slonimsky Yourke ’54. (I still remember our all-nighters, studying for Professor Robertson’s Shakespeare quizzes.)
Symphony Space, a vibrant theater on 95th and Broadway (which now includes the Thalia where I watched foreign films as an undergrad), recently installed a plaque in memory of Kathy’s twenty-five years as director of literary programs. I hadn’t been back to Symphony Space. I didn’t want to see the programs Kathy developed and produced put on by others. But it was time.
And right after Reunion—my 65th—I’m taking all six grandchildren to Paris.
These are the years I have. This is the life I have now.
Sometimes I think about what I had, and I long for it.
But I live in the present. I look forward.
I’m grateful for what I had—and for what remains. •