Being Childless Doesn't Have to Mean Ending Up Alone

Two women in my extended family made it to 100 years old. One had children, the other did not. One was honored with flowers and visits on Mother's Day, while the other never received a Mother's Day card. But when they celebrated their centennial birthdays, both were surrounded by loving family.

The woman who had children was Ruth, my husband's ex-mother-in-law, maternal grandmother to Fred's children. She turned 100 last month. Her daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter gathered at a posh restaurant to celebrate. In the Facebook photos, she looks happy, alert and ready to go on for another decade.

Although we have no direct connection these days, when Fred's kids were young, we occasionally spent time with Ruth and her late husband, Walt. They were always kind to me and included me as one of the family. Divorce doesn't always dissolve all the links between people; sometimes, it adds more links. Ruth lives these days in a senior residence in Santa Clara, California, not too far from her family. I wish her many more happy times in her long life.

The woman who did not have children was Edna, my mother's favorite aunt, married to Mom's Uncle Tony. I'm not sure why they didn't have children. I have heard rumors of miscarriages and failed attempts to get pregnant. When Aunt Edna was young, people didn't have all the medical options they have now. They also didn't talk about such things, so we don't really know what happened.

Aunt Edna was a whirlwind of energy; stylish, bold and always on the go. She worked in the office at a local cannery for many years. My mother worked with her until she got pregnant with me and retired to motherhood and life as a housewife, but Aunt Edna kept going. She worked, she had a busy social life, she volunteered for the church, and she loved her nieces and nephews. She was always surrounded by friends and family. Uncle Tony died relatively young of cancer, but Aunt Edna stayed in their house. Down the street, in her own house, lived her sister Virginia, who never married or had children. She, too, was a "career girl," working at San Jose State most of her life. After they retired, the two sisters traveled the world, seeing just about every country. At home, they gathered with their vast network of in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews.

By the time Aunt Edna turned 100, she, too, was living in a senior residence, only a couple miles from where Ruth lives. Her dark hair had turned into a fluffy white cloud, her memory was fading, and she didn't walk as well as she used to, but she was never alone. For her birthday party, the family rented a banquet room at a local restaurant and completely filled it with people who loved Edna. It was the climax of a wonderful life.

Edna died a few months later. A crowd attended the funeral, among them Virginia, now in her 90s, still living in her own home with a caregiver.

Some of us without children worry that we'll end up alone, but we don't have to. Even if we never have children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, we can be like Edna and love the people we have around us and be loved by them, knowing that when we turn 100 years old, we will not be alone.

Is there an Edna in your life? Think about sending her a card this week, even if she never gave birth.