Blair Both, Sr. With her grand – dog, Obi
One of the definitive things about human life is that we grow older each day. Learning to navigate, and accommodate, the ups and downs of aging with something more than grumpy acquiescence requires a determined grace. On the day after Christmas I drove to Wilmington, DE with my friend of 30+ years, Blair Both and her spouse, Inza Walston. Almost every year, for quite a few now, we have made this journey to spend time with Blair’s mother, whose name is also Blair Both. Blair, the elder’s, birthday is December 31. This year she will celebrate 99 years of life.
Blair lives at Crosslands Retirement Center outside of Wilmington, DE in Kennett Square, PA. She and her husband, Richard, moved to Crosslands in 1996. Richard died in 2007 and in 2013 Blair moved to Assisted Living at Crosslands. Driving to Crosslands through the Delaware/ Pennsylvania countryside is an Andrew Wyeth experience: roadside browns, greys and ochres with rustic houses set on rolling hills. Passing Longwood Gardens I always think about Richard, who volunteered his excellent gardener skills in those gardens after his retirement. He and Blair gave so much of their time to numerous causes in their lives. Blair was for many years a volunteer at Hospice, and both of them lived into their Baptismal covenant as active lay ministers.
As Blair’s ability to process the details of her present reality have decreased, she has remained a gentle, strong, grace filled woman. Sitting in her chair by the window she greets everyone who comes into her room with a smile and welcome. Watching her converse with those people, you would never guess that she really has no idea who they are. Her ability to “fake it” as she talks to others leaves all of us amazed. I heard her say to someone yesterday, “I will remember your visit forever.”
Lest you think Blair is a totally agreeable pushover; let me assure you that she has not lost her feistiness. She is quick to speak her mind about things that do not meet with her approval. Whether it is food or apparel; or the arrangement of things in her room, she speaks her mind. When Blair (the younger) asked her mom to not read a particular Christmas card out loud and handed her another card, her mom took the card (with some determination) and said, “You won’t have to listen to this one!!”
Two nights ago at dinner in the Crossland’s dining room, Inza asked Blair if she would talk about how she prays. Without hesitation and with a light in her eyes and joy in her voice she described praying for others. She talked about praying that other people would show her more about Christ, and that God would lead her to those who needed to hear about Christ. She prays for the staff at Crosslands and for those who help her. This is the way she learned to pray from her father who was an Episcopal clergyman. Born late in her mother and father’s life, she described enjoying the special relationship she had with her father who called her his “little friend.” They often spent time together reading and talking. Finally Inza asked Blair, “Are you sure God hears your prayers?” “Yes”, Blair answered without hesitation. “Do you believe that you will be with God when you die?” Again, the emphatic answer came, “Yes.”
Laughing, loving, and praying are all part of Blair’s vocabulary as this part of her life unfolds. These are not new habits, but enduring life patterns. There is some confusion and anxiety on occasion, met with reassuring words from family, friends and staff who know that tomorrow Blair will again be sunny and welcoming.
HAPPY 99TH BIRTHDAY, BLAIR!