I know it is a product of my age, but increasingly, I seem to send more sympathy cards than birthday greetings. Largely, those in my sphere who are exiting life’s stage are older: parents, grandparents, stepparents of friends and co-workers.
Last week alone, three co-workers in my hallway – whose offices house 26 people – have lost loved ones: two parents and a grandmother-in-law. One of those, a friend who lost her mother Thursday, traveled to her mother-in-law’s funeral just four weeks ago. A woman in my office who buried her mother on Tuesday lost her father this past Easter. Michele and I have both lost our mothers in the last two years. My boss lost her brother after she spent months caring for her elderly mother, who pulled through with a heart valve transplant.
A close friend whose grandmother died in 2009 – at the happy age of 91 – said recently that when people came up and expressed their condolences at her grandmother’s death, she wondered, “Why?! She had a great life: she lived to be 91 years old. Everyone dies.”
Of course she’s right, but in this country we fight death every step of the way. Youth is king, and wrinkles are a disease to be treated. Societal attitudes are hard to overcome — I struggle every time I run out of anti-aging cream and wonder what I’m really spending my money on, or ponder the question attributed to Catherine Deneuve many years ago: do I save my face or my ass? Mass media in the US have made natural aging seem unnatural, and death has gotten swept up in the spin.
I turned 50 a year and a half ago, and I still haven’t adjusted – much less come to grips with my own mortality.
Even in my denial, I recognize that with age comes perks: I’m much smarter than I was at half my age, more willing to trust myself, and less willing to put up with other people’s crap. I have a better sense of what’s important to me. There’s a sense, too, of greater urgency pushing me to figure it out, get it right – and grab the good things that come my way and hold on tight. The trick is taking such warnings to heart. Embrace life, my friends, lest it pass you by.
When it comes to growing old gracefully, I’m making progress, but I’m not there yet. With any luck, I have a lot of years ahead to figure it out.