I was at a funeral. For my mother-in-law. Ruth Estelle Robin Steinhauser was her full name. My daughter was named for her.
She lived a full and rich life, a life ahead of her time, becoming head librarian for a school district with 90 schools in it. She had everything she could have wanted, most especially a marriage that lasted 66 years. She even knew her great-grandchildren.
Before her funeral (a really moving affair and a full house) we had a little get together in the home her husband designed and built back in 1961. I suddenly noticed something about halfway through.
There was no one from her generation left.
Yes, there are stragglers. My mom is 85 and I love her very much. My wife's uncle Otto has survived cancer and looks pretty good for 86. But 86 is the magic number here.
The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw called them, is just about gone.
As recently as 2001, when we traveled to Texas for Ruth and Bennie's 60th anniversary bash, the Woman's Club of San Antonio (Ruth's favorite place next to her own home) was packed with people who'd danced to Glenn Miller's In the Mood when it was new. But if you make it to your 80s (and you're lucky if you do), you know the weight of time is pressing down hard, pressing you into the ground.
There is serious significance in this moment. These are the people who not only won the war, but who invented the Generation Gap, rejecting many of their hippie children as those children rejected the Cold War. These are the people who switched from Kennedy to Nixon and became the backbone of the modern Republican Party. They are the people who defined the suburbs and the Sunbelt retirement.
Gone. There is serious political significance in this moment, as we may be about to elect a President whose grandmother, not mother but grandmother, was part of that generation. But I can't do more than note it here. My heart is too heavy for that.
Our generation will define a new way of aging, as we define everything else.
Personally I plan to take the advice of my black neighbors here on Winter Avenue and age in place. All the culture I could want is a MARTA ride away -- so is the Airport and the world. Some of the best hospitals in the world are just two miles north of me. And I like the idea of my children being able to visit grandma and grandpa in situ, as my wife was able to do, to sleep in their old bedrooms and have another room for their own kids.
In a way I stole this idea from the Steinhausers. (Told you she was ahead of her time.) They lived in their own home until the end of the end. Bennie died in his own bed, one day after his 66th wedding anniversary. He called his autobiography "Never Alone" and at the end he wasn't. He was surrounded by his family and (in a feat of strength Houdini could not have attempted) his beloved wife was at his side. It was her last great accomplishment and when the call came I was not surprised.
Our ends are to come, but Ruth's passing is a reminder that they come for all of us. The End of the End. If you can manage it as well as my mother-in-law did, your soul will fly to heaven and you will be greeted by God as a friend.