I was walking my dog in the park recently with my husband, Paul, when two joggers suddenly raced down the path in front of us. Martha, a Lab-pit bull mix, may be 15 years old, but she is strong and a little bit crazy. She jumped toward the runners and nearly pulled me down.

I screamed. And immediately channeled my mother.

For several years before she passed away in 2009, at age 88, Mom had balance issues. She felt unsteady even when using a walker, and, slowly, her world became smaller and smaller. On her last visit to Maine, she was reluctant to leave our summer rental, even to visit a favorite restaurant.

I do not want to go down that road.

I felt chagrined about letting out that yell. What exactly was I afraid of? I’m not concerned about my balance, but I had two full knee replacements in 2022. I guess I’m wary as a result. I know I can’t break my titanium implants, but I have this persistent thought that a stiff wind or a spooked dog could take me down. No woman in her 60s wants to fall hard. The repercussions can be severe.

Still, as a person who gardens regularly, walks daily and swims several times a week, I’d like to think I’m in pretty good shape and have no legitimate reason to fear ending up flat on my face in the park.


That is exactly the kind of thing I’d say to my mother, back in the day, as I exhorted her to work on her balance and not let her apprehensions get the best of her. It never worked.

Here’s what happened. Mom finally got this great doctor, a gerontologist. When Mom ended up in the hospital with a minor, treatable issue, the physician saw her chance. She spoke to my sister and me. Mom had a back condition that could be corrected with a routine operation. Afterwards, she would likely be able to walk more normally again.

The three of us talked Mom into it. The procedure went smoothly, and Mom was discharged to a nursing home for rehab. There she developed sepsis. She died in the hospital a few days later. Near the end, my sister and I had to wear full protective gear in order to be with her. It was a sobering experience.

I have never seen this incident as a reason to avoid operations; I would have run to the hospital to have my knees replaced, if I could have attained any speed in my previous, arthritic condition. No. What happened was ironic, but also tragic. Mom was otherwise healthy and was at the top of her game mentally.

Before I grew old myself and acquired two faux knees, that good health was what I always focused on when I thought about Mom. Until the balance issue arose, she was a model for growing old well.

She was strong and resilient. My father died at age 50, and Mom never remarried. She was alone for years, handling — solo — the stresses of life. She worked, at least part time, well into her 60s. At that time, she took several group trips abroad. In her 70s, Mom was one of several family caregivers helping to keep her oldest sister living at home.


Mom mowed her lawn and took care of her 1-acre property until she moved to live with my sister and brother-in-law at age 80.

In her new community, she became an active participant in the senior center. She made a good friend there, which is a rare thing for older people to do. She also had a male friend we called her boyfriend, although they never dated.

Now, that was something I would have loved to see.

Mom enjoyed spending time on my sister’s sailboat and visiting Paul and me in Maine. For a number of years, Mom joined us on camping trips at Lily Bay on Moosehead Lake. She had her own tent, which she would share with one of our two dogs. The only camping trips we’d taken as a family when I was young were in a motor home, so this was a big adventure for her.

I watched Mom enter her 80s with pride. like several of her sisters had before her. I was in my 40s, so I was starting to feel “older” myself and beginning to think seriously about healthy living. I appreciated that Mom kept physically and socially active. Even when she began to decline due to her back problem, she remained dedicated to doing word search puzzles, determined to keep mental deterioration at bay. Mom enjoyed reading and maintained her keen sense of humor.

There are many times when I want to talk to my mother about life’s travails. At my age, that often relates to the process of getting older. I wouldn’t mind some inspiration about navigating this course, much in the way I used to harangue her.


Then again, I can always remember her at the picnic table at Lily Bay, a big grin on her face.

I can remember our frenzied shopping trips together on Black Friday.

I can imagine her snorting with laughter at my story of screaming in the park when Martha almost knocked me down as those joggers approached.

I can especially imagine her asking, “Do you think they heard you?”

Liz Soares welcomes email at lizzie621@icloud.com.

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