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present and absent

Photo by Julie Seyler.


Now that I am in my mid 50s, I am reminded daily, not only about the uncertainties and challenges of aging, but the consequences. There are aches and pains and sudden fatigue and weight that will not go away. And unexpected mental lapses. There is also the fear I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.

My mother died over 30 years ago when she was 60. When she was my age she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This past March, her brother died of complications from dementia at the age of 91. He had more years, but he was never the same after his wife died eight years before of Alzheimer’s, which made the dementia seem like a cruel joke. Which one had the better of it – my mother or her brother?

I lost a friend to a heart attack, and another was recently diagnosed with a form of dementia. Friends are losing their parents. Popular
musicians and actors I grew up with are dying.

Where have you gone, Annette Funicello?

That’s no way to think, my husband constantly reminds me. Which is why those birdwatching walks I take in the woods provide better relief than any anxiety medication. So does keeping up with friends while they’re still around. I recently called one of these friends, who had turned 95. He not only has the distinction of being the oldest of my friends, but he’s my only friend that is also a former employer.

When he answered the phone, he knew who I was. He could hear me “fair,” and we easily talked about family, the news of the day, politics and how much he dislikes sports, as though we were still in the same office rather than 1,000 miles apart. He pens a weekly essay for the writers group at the senior residence where he lives, and reads The New York Times daily to keep up.

He doesn’t understand the Internet and social media, so telling him about blog posts isn’t worth the effort. He stopped looking at email when his inbox got stuffed with spam.

“I live in the past,” he said, preferring old-fashioned letters and phone calls. He doesn’t have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, and wouldn’t want one, although he has a lot of interesting stories he could tell about his military career during World War II. I would like to age his way. His family is nearby, and people look in on him daily. He is content with his life, despite the sad things, which includes his wife’s passing.

“Anyone who says they’ve never gone through any bad things in his life hasn’t lived,” he told me.

As we were ending our conversation, my 95-year-old friend told me something astonishing. He has weekly conversations with his brother in Florida, who just turned 100! He seemed in awe of the fact his brother is still alive, well, and has all his faculties.

So am I – of both of them. I can only hope to have the same luck.