With the upcoming publication of Breathing Underwater there will be eleven Tanner Chronicles books on my shelf. Each of them is a relational story---hopeful seniors in search of a lasting relationship. Yet in the midst of their seeking each of them is dealing with one or more of the distressing realities that dot our October landscape.
From time to time all of us come face to face with some kind of late-life obstacle. But no matter what the challenge, one important truth remains unchanged---dealing with October and beyond usually (though not always) works best when it is a shared effort.
I hope you will stay with me through this, all the way to the end. What I’m hoping for is a celebration of a late-life truth for which we ought to be thankful. But to reach that comforting space we must first address some very uncelebratory realities.
You see, it was a real bummer, that day last week when Roma and I had to go our separate ways so each of us could attend one of the two funerals scheduled just a couple hours apart. Of course, we knew those sad mornings are a part of October and November---but that doesn’t make them any easier. We live in a vulnerable time of life, a time when we depend on each other more than ever.
The fact is, the October challenges we face rarely impact just us. It is a simple bit of logic---the truest of the truth usually is. The trials we deal with are bound to touch our partner, our family, our close friends---everyone who cares about us. Having steered a dozen or so fictional acquaintances through the quicksand of senior troubles, I can attest---and you can too---that those hard times impact all the players.
More than that, our often-twisting October path is a two-way street. As much as we need the caring and support of those around us, there will be times when it is our turn to offer the help they need. There are even times when the apparent “victim” is called on to support his or her own support team. At every turn late-life works best as a shared experience.
Needless to say, the last miles of our journey toward the great unknown we cannot avoid are apt to be a daunting time. Does that sound too dark, too depressing to think about? I hope not. Over the years I have painted some of my Tanner Chronicle friends into one or more of those distressing corners.
However, in my way of thinking the most depressing circumstance of all would be to face those times alone. Those last miles are a time for special caring and support. For those of us who have experienced the need for a special someone to see us through October and beyond the opportunity to grow old together makes all the difference.
The willingness of my Tanner friends to seek a new connection that will hopefully help overcome their loneliness is at the heart of my stories. Making that time of life a shared experience is an important motivator for the October characters I have imagined into being. Somehow, a 300 page tale that ends with the two of them going their separate ways is not all that satisfying---though it has happened a time or two.
Finally, however---we mustn’t forget that not everyone is a candidate for that “together” future. For any number of reasons many of our October peers choose not to rely on another life-mate, but instead focus on a different sort of shared future---one that includes themselves, their family and friends, and the memory of the partner who had seen them through their shared trials. If that works for them, who can argue with the choice they’ve made?