It is almost Valentine’s Day, and media—new and old—are replete with discussions of love—by which they mean romantic love—certainly the least coherent form. But it makes for good popular music, movies and other tale-spinning, and is almost always the featured version.
After my grandpa Sam died, my grandmother Sadie moved to a small walk-up apartment in Baltimore where she lived until she was 89 years old. She then decided that she should move to a place where, should she become less able to get around, she would not have to move again. That move alone says a great deal about her character—how many older people have the clarity and determination to preemptively move before they have to? Rather than clinging to the past, Sadie, clear-eyed and courageous, accepted the future and acted.
After grandpa’s death, Sadie decided she would learn how to invest the very small life insurance payment she had received. This was before the era of mutual funds, and Sadie soon became a regular fixture at a local brokerage firm—and proceeded to methodically invest and build substantial savings. She was able to support herself to her dying day—and was proud that she had taken almost nothing and built financial security.
Sadie was known and, I think, loved, by the brokers at this firm. I will never forget that one time I got lost after visiting Sadie in Baltimore and pulled over at a phone booth (there were no cell phones then) to call her to see if she could direct me to the interstate. She told me to hold on, called her broker, and then had me call him for directions!
I am now 66 years old, and over time have been increasingly struck by how quiet gestures speak volumes about love. As anyone who has had an elderly grandmother knows, it is very common, due to hormonal changes in aging, for old ladies to develop a noticeable mustache. And as Sadie got older, she did develop a mustache. When my mother, Charlotte, noticed this, she embarked on a ritual mustache waxing whenever the hair became noticeable. There was something touching and lovely about this small gesture—a way of helping my grandmother retain her dignity and beauty in the sunset of her life.
It is the small gestures that we take with our friends and loved ones–and in this I include both our human and non-human loved ones–that far outweigh the transient gestures of romantic love. As anyone who has experienced romance knows, the romantic phase invariably fades—and if the relationship does not evolve into one of companionship and appreciation, it does not endure.
When my mom got older and had to move into assisted living, it was my sister Jackie who often helped mom shower, and if necessary, undertook the intimate process of helping her clean herself. I remember being grateful that I had a sister—and one who did this without complaint whenever she was there and saw that it needed to be done.
The next time you are pondering the meaning of love—and you will be inundated with stories and reflections on love in coming days–think about a daughter lovingly waxing her mother’s mustache, or helping her elderly mother shower.