Occasionally, there are, indeed, once-in-a-lifetime events. A child’s birth is probably the most common, though each is unique and hopefully never taken for granted. Yearly birthdays, then, become celebratory milestones, and some of those birthdays are “big,” like turning 18 or 30 or 50 or 75. Few people live too much past their early 90s, and fewer still live into their second century.
Lorene Koonts Ferree, my mother-in-law, turned 100 years old March 29, 2017! Her extended family gathered last weekend for a birthday bash, and Lorene was the life of the party. Far from resting in a wheelchair in a common area of a nursing home, mostly oblivious or barely responsive to her surroundings, this birthday girl is still a force to be reckoned with.
Lorene insisted that everyone dress up for her party, and we all complied. Several ladies wore fancy hats to match their fancy dresses, and my husband donned a tie for the first time in years other than for a wedding or funeral. (He has made me promise that if he dies before his mother, I’ll properly attire him in a suit and tie to honor her sense of decorum; otherwise, he wants to go to his final resting place in his beloved baggy jeans and gray tee-shirt.)
Mother Ferree still lives alone and largely takes care of all her everyday tasks, including dressing and preparing simple meals. She gave up driving several years ago, but she stubbornly refuses to get rid of her car, which remains in the garage always at the ready. Lorene had aggressive breast cancer at age 87 and insisted the oncologist provide radiation and chemotherapy after her mastectomy. He resisted because the rigorous treatments were outside the standard of care for someone her age. Reluctantly, he relented only when Lorene accused him of age discrimination and threatened to find another medical provider who would do what she asked. This feisty, determined woman came through those treatments with only some thinned hair and what she described as “a bit of fatigue.” She has some hearing loss, but otherwise, she is healthy and content.
Fiercely independent all her life, Lorene had to adjust to asking for help the last few years. My husband David drives her everywhere, and they have come to enjoy their routines. Monday is banking day, Wednesday is grocery shopping day, Thursday is hair day, and some Sundays she still goes to her Sunday School class and often church. Ideally, she prefers that medical or dental appointments are scheduled for Tuesday or Thursday. Every outing is accompanied by lunch and usually a side trip to either the dollar store or drugstore. A few years ago she bought an iPad and had internet service installed so she could keep up with her extended family – and learned to use it.
Her other son John calls every evening to check on her, which gives David and me some peace of mind that she won’t be alone if she becomes ill or hurt between the time David leaves her most afternoons and when he gets there the next day. John and his wife Ann, who live out of state, planned the lavish 100th birthday party complete with party favors, lush flowers, a gorgeous custom-made cake, and a slideshow that spanned her lifetime. The restaurant workers were amazed when Lorene came strolling in all dolled up like a queen for a day, which she certainly was.
Through all the years I’ve known her, Mother Ferree has been consistently kind, gracious, and believed the best about anyone. Frequently, she remarks matter-of-factly that she has outlived most everyone she ever knew. She says that getting old is just like being younger – you simply keep going and doing what you can do, except that things take longer now and require more help. Always very pragmatic and almost never emotional, she isn’t much for self-reflection.
Still, in the car on the way to her fabulous birthday party, she mused quietly, “This is such a nice thing to have everybody together! I wonder why some people just aren’t into spending time with family. That’s all that really matters, you know, especially when you’re this old.”
Yes, indeed. Happy 100th birthday, Mother!
Marnie C. Ferree