When I am 86

Not too terribly long ago, my parents moved into a retirement community just over twenty miles from my home. A few days ago I made the forty-minute drive to accompany them to a parent and adult child gathering. This get together came to be as two daughters navigated health issues and transitions alongside their aging moms. They became friends and support for each other, and they wanted to extend this possibility to others who may one day be in the same situation. Though my own parents are on the younger side of the crowd, watching my mom care for my now almost ninety-eight year old grandmother is instructive. So many of my peers find themselves in challenging care-taking roles with their parents.

At the reception, I met a number of interesting and engaging people from both generations. But one particular conversation resonated with me and has captured my imagination.


Daughter: “We recently moved my parents from a small house into a one bedroom apartment after Mom had some serious health issues. See my dad over there. He is eighty-six years old. He has trouble walking. We ended up being the ones to go through all of their stuff in an unexpectedly hurry-up period of time. My husband is a teacher and had some time off. He tackled my dad’s closet. One day while I was at work, he called me and said, ‘why in the world does your dad still have scuba gear, ice skates, and cowboy boots?!’ I said, welllll actually, I think it is snorkeling gear.”

Me: “Well, did your dad want to keep any of those things? (I fully expected her to respond with either ‘no’ or cowboy boots.)

Daughter: “Yes, the ice skates.”

Me: I chuckled and then said, “You have given me something to think on and ponder.”


I shared this story with a friend who commented, “denial.” Maybe so. But I have also wondered if the ice skates represent something else. Maybe they hold the memory of a special moment or signify a hard fought battle to learn something new or contain echoes of a long ago childhood or championship or . . .

As someone living in my mid-fifties, I realize that in the matter of “living life as a senior adult,” I am up next. What will be my ice skates? Maybe the shelves and shelves of well-loved books or certain shoes that help me feel tall and beautiful. It is hard to know right now, but if I live long enough, the day will certainly arrive. Thrift stores are full of once prized crystal and china that for some represent days gone by of beautiful holidays and parties. While these are not my particular “thing,” I am quite sure that my version of ice skates will make itself known.



Letting go of material things is symbolic. As we age, our lives focus into smaller spaces, often both literally and figuratively. Downsizing requires the culling of things that once played practical or sentimental roles along the story paths of our lives. Reduced energy and mobility invite us to prioritize our time and choices in an ever more focused way. When I am eighty-six, I wonder which things that I can hold in my hands will matter most.


+++ What are your ice skate moments with your aging parents or yourself. I would love to hear your story.