I am terrified of getting old.
I fear becoming vulnerable mentally and physically. I’m afraid of not being able to look after myself, of my mind and memory dissolving and unraveling, putting me out of control of my life. I’m afraid that at times I’ll be lucid enough to know I’m failing. I’m petrified of becoming dependant on — at the mercy of — others.
In Bettyville: A Memoir, author George Hodgman leaves New York and returns to his family home in Missouri to care for his 90-year-old mother, Betty. As mother and son, Betty and George are a lot alike. Throughout their lives they’re both just trying to “get it right.” Betty did her best to raise a son she knows is gay but whose lifestyle she can’t accept. Commitment-phobic George does his best to care for an emotionally remote mother who is wonderfully cantankerous, independent, and fiercely unsentimental.
The book is about aging with grace, about allowing yourself to be vulnerable, about preserving dignity despite memory loss and the body’s tragicomic fall. It’s about the distances between close family members, about the two people who supplied your DNA, yet fear acknowledging who you really are, and about how silences suppress the truth. It’s about allowing yourself to be cared for, to be taken care of. What’s beautiful about this book is the tenderness, respect, understanding, and forgiveness with which George treats his mother. We should all be so lucky to have someone like him at our side when our decline steepens.
Betty Baker Hodgman died just this past Sunday, July 26th, 2015. She was 93 years old.
I read this book twice back-to-back. It’s worth your time.
June and July, 2015
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