It’s Scary Loving an Old Person
By Judith Trustone
Many of you have met or have heard about my dear friend, Bea Dallett, who died recently at 101. I was honored to be with her in her final earth journey. We plan a celebration of her incredible life, one that touched so many for so many years through her expanding the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, PA, from an unremarkable local spot to a nationally respected arts center where she mentored and inspired many, many aspiring artists. I'm attaching her obituary and also a few pages (253-255) from my book, The Global Kindness Revolution: How together we can heal Violence, Racism, and Meanness. Take a moment to read about this remarkable woman and how scary it is to love an old person! But I'm so glad I did.
Be in Beauty,
Though we’d passed each other in the lobby for years, I’d never had a chance to really get to know her. I thought she looked like an interesting person, one I’d like to get to know better. She’d been a real power in the arts community, directing the Community Arts Center until she was 80, developing it into a significant art education center. Her sunny home was filled with art treasures from around the world. Her sharp mind tunes into all that’s going on in the world, and we have frequent conversations about politics in America today.
But this feisty woman with the strong spirit surprised us all, bouncing back with increased vigor, still involved with life. My admiration, respect and yes, caring for her grew. I told her I wanted to learn from her how to grow old gracefully—and she is definitely showing me. She seems to enjoy my tales of trying to change the world, and her memory is much better than mine.
Though she needs a walker now, and sometimes when we go out we’ll use a wheelchair, she is more involved with the world than many of the younger people I know. We talk politics, exchange Netflix movies, share meals and sometimes I sneak around the corner of her hallway for an ice cream snack before bedtime. We live just a few doors down from each other in a large condominium complex.
We have become best girlfriends, and our affection and appreciation for one another greatly enriches my life and my own spirit. While it seems that statistically she will die before me, I am fully prepared to be a loving presence in whatever years she has left, and I will be honored to see her through to her last breath. Yes, I will grieve when she passes, but my grief will be softened by gratitude for having had this wonderful woman in my life to learn from and have fun with. Allowing myself to love her has definitely been worth it regardless of the future.
When I’m out with Bea, pushing her wheelchair now, I see how she is treated by those who don’t know her despite the fact that she’s mentally sharper than most younger folks but her legs don’t work right since a botched hip replacement. American culture, contrary to those cultures that care for their elders in a hopefully loving way in their families, segregates our elders in nursing homes, not the kinds of places where any of us want to spend our last years, no matter our color, class or ethnicity. Family dynamics are complex, as you will see in the following article that was printed back in the ‘70s in Labyrinth: Baptizing my Grandmother, an example of how different generations and values make the ends of our lives complicated.
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Author & Activist