“I’m not complaining, I’m just commenting….”
My 101-year-old mother lives in a comfortable senior residence in Jamaica Plain and is fortunate to have befriended several other residents fairly close to her in age. Her best friend is an elderly woman who has endeared herself to my whole family. For the purposes of this essay, we will call her Betty.
To say that aging is not for the faint-hearted is probably the understatement of the year. Human beings are miraculous creatures, but as we know, advanced age takes its toll. Moreover, when you live long enough, sadly you often experience tragic loss of one form or another. Betty has indeed had more than her fair share: the untimely death of a son, daughter-in-law and grandson, as well as the severe illness of another grandson, who miraculously has been recently saved by a kidney transplant from an angel donor. Not to mention the loss of her husband who endured Alzheimer’s disease.
Despite all this, at 98 Betty is one of the most upbeat and positive people I know. She is consistently full of good cheer and tries always to look on the bright side. She is a passionate lover of music and even has an old-fashioned player piano in her apartment!
So, recently, when she joined my mother and me for dinner, Betty commiserated with my mom about their mutual loss of hearing, back and leg pains, vision loss, etc, etc.
However, Betty abhors “kvetching” and prefaced her many statements with the sentence: “I’m not complaining; I’m just commenting.” Betty explained that she hates to complain about physical ailments, and then proceeded to expound upon how fortunate she has been in her life—this from a woman who lost so many close family members and endured agonizing worry over her ill but now recovered but still vulnerable grandson.
My husband knows that I find group conversations where everyone shares at some length about his or her aches and pains and treatments and medications insufferable.
Yes, fortunately I have been spared of much of that so far, but honestly I have a hard time with listening to complaining about medical concerns. I understand people find it comforting to share these conditions, but I’d so much prefer to talk about current events or arts or culture or challenges to our democracy or the ongoing unfair demonization of Israel, or our favorite TV series. Anything but medical issues!
God willing, if my friends and family make it into our late 90s, we can dwell on our aches and pains to our hearts’ content. But even so, if I do make it to that blessed stage, I hope I’ll remember our dear friend Betty’s admonition: “I’m not complaining; I’m just commenting.”

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