The Last Time

Of course, we don’t know it’s the last time. It’s only in the future that we’ll look back and think that was the last time I hiked the six miles to the alpine lake or the last time I got together with friends at our favorite watering hole. During this pandemic, a restaurant that had become an institution in town closed permanently, and I think of the last time I had drinks and tapas there with friends—a place we had been hanging out at since we all worked together at the newspaper across the street (which also is no longer there), more than 30 years. It’s hard to imagine that a place that came to symbolize good times with good friends is gone forever.

When I first moved to Colorado, I learned how to downhill ski (back when lift tickets were $15 and lift lines were almost nonexistent), and for at least 30 years, it was one of the great pleasures of my life. I loved surveying the world from on top of the mountain, floating through the powdery snow and afterward enjoying a burger and beer as well as the pure pleasure of feeling physically exhausted.

But somewhere in my 50s, my knees started hurting, lift tickets became expensive, the ski runs and roads became crowded, and my skiing partner started to lose interest. If I wanted to continue, I would need to replace my old skis and boots, which were falling apart. But more than new equipment, I needed the old me, who was still flexible and strong, who could ski with abandon and no thoughts of mortality.

I started ice skating as a child when my family moved to the northern suburbs of Chicago. Like skiing, it was the closest I could come to flying, and when I moved to Colorado, I found lakes and ice rinks where I could flow across the ice, practicing the figure eight turns that my girlfriends and I did when we were young. That all ended a few years ago when I found out I had osteoporosis.  Afraid that a fall would mean broken bones, I gave up ice skating.

I remember my father, in his 80s, telling me how much he missed riding a bike. But the man who taught me how to ride a bike wasn’t strong enough by then and could have easily lost his balance.  I still ride my bike, but there are times when I feel wobbly, and once or twice I’ve fallen. Someday, I won’t be able to do it, but I don’t want to know that it’s my last time.

It’s hard to let go of the things we love because they are part of our identity and make life worth living. I did sell my ice skates to a resale shop, but my skis, boots and poles are still down in the basement. I’m not ready to let go, can’t quite give up the idea that, under the right circumstances, I could still push myself off from the top of the mountain and hurl my aging body down through miles of snow.  Every time I look at the skis, I’m reminded that I need to make a decision, accept that I can’t do it anymore, and clear the space for something else. And still the skis sit there.  I’m not ready to give up my illusions.

12 thoughts on “The Last Time

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  1. We do have the memories. But I’m still not willing to admit that I’ve hiked my last trail, climbed my last mountain, or driven Trail Ridge Road for the last time. And I’ve yet to admit I now lack the energy for a day trip to Estes Park or my favorite foliage spots. Oh, I could go if someone else drove, but for me the driving is half the fun.

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  2. Ouch. Reading your post, I thought of several things I’ll most likely never experience again. Part of what I’m not ready to give up, I think, is the denial of the need to grieve these losses. Turning to look at them, I realize that at some level I, like you, have simply expected that some day they’ll magically enter my life again. Thanks for giving me the permission I need to meet my grief.

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  3. Last fall arthritis in my hands became so painful that I could no longer write by hand. I’ve kept a journal since I was 12 years old, and I love to write letters, real ones on paper and notecards that I put into colored envelopes and choose just the right stamp from my stock of stamps. I love the heft of an envelope ready to mail, the look of a notebook with fluffy edges from much use, and oh! don’t get me started on pens! I used my favorite fountain pen for my journal and a different favorite fountain pen for letters, so of course I also had bottles of ink in different colors and all the paraphernalia for cleaning the pens. To grieve the loss of writing was (and still is) to grieve the loss of everything I associate with writing, all those tools that I love and notebooks in all sizes as well as books about writing and journaling–and that doesn’t even begin to touch on the heart of the matter: how do I know what I am thinking without pen in hand? How can I process the grief of not writing by hand–without writing by hand? Yes, I can type, and I am grateful for that, but how do I work out who I am now if I can’t write about it by hand in a notebook I chose–with a pen I love–in the color of ink I’m in the mood for. I grieve this loss every day, and even in grief, I ask myself what opportunities might open for me that I haven’t yet considered. (Of course, I want to grab a pen and write about that, but alas!) I sent more email messages, I read even more than I did before I lost journaling, and I’ve given away notebooks to friends who I know will enjoy them. I’m keeping the pens. Like Jennifer, I want to believe that my hands will magically be able to reconnect with pen and paper.

    Thanks for this evocative post, Kath.

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    1. Verna, it makes me very sad to think of you not being able to write. I loved all your pen and paper creations. I’ll grieve with you. Thanks for this beautiful description of your papers and pens.

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  4. Thank you writing this post. It really hit home. I think it would hit home for just about every old person. I used to do a lot of bicycling, cross country and long distance. When I moved here, it seemed the roads were unsafe. I became reluctant to ride the roads. I gave my bike away. I had been building a tandem bicycle for my wife and myself. It was nearly completed when I moved here. I finally threw it away. It was a sad moment. I have a mountain bike that I keep in my truck, just in case I need emergency transportation while I in the wilderness. I think I will oil it up, and start riding it, even if I have to ride on the back roads and dirt roads. I haven’t ridden my bike for the last time, yet.

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  5. Here is another activity that I must do again. Horse back riding. I never did it much but I always wanted a horse but it wasn’t in the cards. But there is a horse place near by that I can pay to ride. That’s what I’m going to do. I haven’t ridden a horse for the last time.

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