And I've been thinking of death.
Not my own death, not exactly.
Turning 65 was an exciting, public milestone. I became eligible for Medicare, started collecting Social Security and Bob and I made our retirement dreams reality.
This year, the milestone is a quiet one not obvious to anyone who doesn't know me well: I've reached the age that my parents were when they died. How is that possible? Where did the time go?
Some reach that landmark birthday much earlier, of course.
Sharon Scace, who will be 43 next month, lost her mother -- one of my dearest college friends -- when Lorraine was 42 and Sharon 19. And now Sharon is nearly a year older than her mother ever was. My heart aches when I think how young Lorraine was when she passed away -- and how much she missed: the graduations, weddings, the grandchildren and the successful careers of her two cherished daughters Sharon and Virginia. I had a birthday greeting from Sharon today, saying how much she enjoys the blog because she is already planning her own retirement. The tiny, sweet baby I held in my arms just as I was finishing graduate school is planning for retirement? Where did the time go?
I have always felt that, at 66, my parents died much too young, far too soon. But their lives at that point were quite different from the life I enjoy today.
My father described himself as "the man who has everything" -- including Parkinson's, diabetes, heart disease, depression, dementia, alcoholism, and prescription drug abuse. Even before any major diseases struck him, he was always dying. When he got a bad cold or the flu, he would gather the family around his bed and announce that he was dying: "I see a choir of angels and there -- my sainted mother! I'll be going soon..." But he always recovered no matter how many death speeches he gave, no matter how much he abused his body.
Death caught him one hot July day as he circled fretfully around the front yard of his home in his motorized wheelchair, yelling at the UPS delivery man who, seeing him in the front yard and fearing an encounter, kicked a package off the moving truck at the end of the driveway instead of bringing it to the porch. His last words, according to a friend who was there, were not about angels or his sainted mother or loving messages for his family, but a string of curses at the UPS man before he collapsed with a heart attack.
Later, after I had arrived on the scene, police were going through items in his pockets. A policeman turned to me in surprise, extending my father's drivers license. "He was only 66?" he said. "Truly?"
"Truly," I said, blinking back tears, quietly agreeing with the policeman that the man lying on the ground, my father, looked many decades older.
My mother was exhausted at 66 from 38 years of being my father's wife and constant caregiver. She was diagnosed with a cardiac problem only a month after my father's death. My parents did not get along and were chagrined when their lawyer told them firmly, when they were in their late fifties, that they didn't have enough money to get a divorce and live separately. So they lived on together in quiet desperation and constant stress. Then he died -- and I think she missed him more than she - or any of us- ever imagined.
Her doctor gave her heart medications, but her symptoms worsened. She began to have recurring dizziness and blackouts. One day, after a doctor's appointment, she called me to come get her at a shopping mall because she was feeling faint. Bob and I rushed to her, ready to take her to the emergency room. But, once we got there, she said she was probably just hungry and proposed lunch. When I put my arm around her, she felt very small, very stooped, suddenly elderly.
She brightened over lunch, talking about old boyfriends from her airline days, about how she was going to really work at losing weight, about how she had no interest in another marriage, but -- if she could get her weight down -- might welcome a torrid affair with the right person. She chuckled softly at the thought. Then she hugged us both and got into her car. That was the last time I saw her alive. The next day, her next door neighbor of many years went into her unlocked house to check on her. He found her sitting in her favorite chair. Death had come so suddenly that she hadn't even had time to drop the newspaper she was holding.
Losing both of my parents, four months apart, feels like a lifetime ago and yesterday.
Life gives us no guarantees. But I'm hoping for many more birthdays. I'm working out and serious about losing weight. I have an active social life and a lifestyle that includes many people and pursuits I love. More important, my husband Bob and I do get along and understand each other well and love each other in spite of or even because of such knowledge.
Thinking about my parents at 66 makes me wistful. I wish my parents had known the love and joy Bob and I have known. I wish they had been able to slow the aging and onset of disease with good health habits. I wish they could have lived to be the proud grandparents of Nick and Maggie. I wish their lives had been longer and more satisfying. I wish so much that cannot be.
But what I wish for myself, Bob and all my friends of a certain age is just this: loving connections, peace within and the blessing of good health and happiness for many years to come.