What they don’t tell you when you’re young is that as you age, your life becomes increasingly filled with loss. This year I have said goodbye forever to five good friends who brightened my days, and encouraged me to be my best self. When I was younger, I could go years without attending a funeral, but now friends in my age range are beginning to cross the eternal finish line at an alarming rate. The Angel of Death hovers close. At 67, I am one year younger than my mother was when she died.
When I was in my early thirties, my top priority in life was to excel in my executive positions with the aspiration to move up the career ladder, possibly to some deputy position under a secretary in Washington, D.C. Then, much to my horror, I was fired when the Montana governor changed. At the time, I saw this as a tragedy. Later, unemployment turned out to be my life’s greatest gift. I became pregnant after years of trying at the age of 43; a true miracle. I credit the reduced stress and more regular schedule for giving me a son.
Who would have known, I would love my children so? As a baby, Scott was my sidekick, my constant companion because I wasn’t working. Later, after I dropped off Scott at kindergarten for the first time and left sobbing, I already had a vision that we must adopt a little girl from China. People told me it was difficult to get through the Chinese bureaucratic rigmarole, but as a career bureaucrat, for me the paperwork was a wiz. Kayla joined us before Scott finished kindergarten.
Now, Scott has graduated college and is off working in Seattle, and Kayla is about to leave home for college armed with a big scholarship, excellent study skills and a surprising fierceness. Years ago, while emptying the diaper pail or cleaning up green vomit, I thought about how children growing up in a blink of an eye is a myth, but after 24 years of child rearing, that myth has solidified to fact.
Nowadays, Kayla, my husband, Pete, and I discuss death and dying casually around the dinner table. We never did this when Scott was home. But Pete and I are both getting older and Kayla has seen me going off to funerals all year long and attended some of them with me. We have living wills and trusts in place. We will both be cremated. Kayla asked last night about where to put our ashes. She is going to spread her Dad’s ashes in the mountains. She is going to bury me under a tree (her idea). I have always loved flowers and trees.
Americans are always busy setting career goals, pushing them forward, and making money. We seldom take time for vacations, meditation, spiritual growth or just being. During my career years, I was very successful and I made a lot of money. Yet, as I age, and my friends and family vanish, I wonder if I spent enough time on personal relationships, including my relationship with God. The past is fixed, but the future isn’t.
I was in a hurry when I was young to keep building my career. Now, retired, I am thankful to be allowed each extra day to share with loved ones. They say that life is a journey, but it’s more of a race. We are all headed towards the same finish line, but ironically, the last line, death, is the only one I don’t find myself competing to win.