We read in the newspaper about the death of an old man or woman and the lawsuit that follows when the family members discover that their inheritance has been spent on. or left to a newly found companion. The almost universal opinion will be that the old person has been foolish, taken in by false affection.
Let me tell you. We are entitled to be foolish.
I am in my 85th year, and that, however some might want to avoid the term, is definitely old age. An age when you contemplate how many years are left to you, what you want to do with them, an age when your natural desires might seem to others to be foolish. Foolish because so many still believe that with age we should lose the longing to be touched, to give and get affection, to share intimacy with someone when the crowd has gone home.
And so, we are vulnerable, vulnerable to people who pay attention to us, who really listen to us, who recognize that there is still a needy human being within the aged body. It is not about sex, although that can still be part of it – let me shock you — even at the most advanced age! It is more, much more, about a longing for intimacy, the shared joke, the post dinner critique, the hand held in a movie theater, and above all, the chance to once again, experience desiring and being desired.
Families should not underestimate the temptation. I’ve been there. After my husband’s death I met a man who proceeded to court me. He was sophisticated, cultured, well-travelled, good-looking, my age, and we had met in the synagogue – what could go wrong? After a few weeks, over dinner, he asked me for $100,000 to invest in a wheat futures scheme. I said no, and never heard from him again
Fortunately, I am not that vulnerable. But I did admit to myself that if I had billions, if I could have afforded to lose that money, I might have said yes, just to have someone like that in my life. The experience threw me. Not because I lost him as a companion, but because of how I suddenly saw myself. Did I look that needy? That vulnerable? Did I look like prey?
I did indeed feel foolish for thinking that a man so attractive, who could easily have the company of younger women, would court a woman his own age for any reason other than advantage. But then, he was Hungarian and, as politically incorrect as that stereotype may be, it unleashed my sense of humor as I recalled the Hungarian in My Fair Lady, and I laughed, at him, and even better, at myself.
Because my husband was eighteen years older than I, I have lived my old age twice – first his, and now my own. Living through his, I witnessed any number of older men and women whose lives grew narrower through the combination of widowhood, isolation and age. Some were called foolish.
One bought the friendship of a younger woman who kept her alive by letting her live a vicarious life. She came and told the older woman all the details of her intimate life – it was a living soap opera. The young woman profited from it – expensive jewelry, real estate, access to a credit card, cash. Those of us who watched were horrified. But who can put a value on what this young woman gave to our friend? To interfere would have been to leave a vacuum we could not fill.
Another has a wardrobe that calls to her. Recently, I took her out to dinner to a perfectly ordinary local bistro. As she is very unsteady on her feet her caregiver brought her to meet me there. She arrived wearing a full length mink coat, an evening gown, long white gloves, and a-glitter with jewelry. Every eye was on her. Was it inappropriate to the occasion and the place? Yes, of course. But who can blame her for perhaps, just once more, wanting to be the woman she once always was, for recreating for a brief evening, the world of glamor she had lived.
I can relate to that. I look at dresses in my closet and wonder if I will ever have the occasion to wear them again and even if I did, who would I wear them with or for? And, would I look like what my late husband called “mutton dressed as lamb”? Undoubtedly.
So be gentle with your judgements, let us have our foolish moments, as we number our days. And remember that what you call foolishness has its roots in the human condition – vanity, loneliness, vulnerability, the need to love and be loved.
As for worrying about your inheritance, I suggest that the time to do that is while the source is still alive.