Next year, I’ll be 50. Half a century – you know, Nifty Fifty – ripe fodder for jokes about ‘Old-Timer’s Disease’, gag party gifts like adult diapers and Geritol, and paybacks for all the ribbing I gave my sisters as they reached that golden age.
Fifty isn’t old.
Fifty isn’t traumatic.
Fifty isn’t the end of the world or the end of my life. At least, I hope it isn’t.
But fifty is the number of years my sister Missy was given on this earth, and as I approach that birthday, my head and heart are filled with a certain apprehension – what if my life stopped right here? Am I ready? Would I fight it, or would I accept it? Would I be strong enough? I confess that because my sister Wendy died just a week shy of her 43rd birthday, I could think of nothing else when I reached 42.
When my sisters died, I was an adult, and so were they. I am sure it is much more difficult for people who lost their brothers or sisters as children – I cannot even imagine, and I cannot speak for them. Children tend to blame themselves when things like abuse or divorce happen; I suspect that they would also blame themselves if they lost a sister or brother. I did not have that guilt; as a grown up, I knew it wasn’t my fault.
Still, the sad regret is there – the what ifs…the if onlys… the second-guessing…the replaying of events in my head. And it’s not just family whose passing makes me compare my lifespan to theirs. My friend Jon was only 32 when he perished in a house fire. My dear friend Shirley was 47 when she succumbed to a pulmonary embolism (blood clot). At each of those ages, I looked in the mirror and asked the questions for which I had no real answer. I suppose this is a normal part of grieving and moving on.
Life offers no guarantees. Today I talked with a friend about people who overcome extreme personal adversity, such as the loss of limbs or a grave illness, to live their lives not defined by, but in spite of, those circumstances. We talked about how attitudes toward death can determine how we live. We agreed that even for people like us, who do not live under the cloud of a serious disease or catastrophic injury, life holds no promises. We talked about how life can change – or end – in a moment. Can we ever really be ready?
So, at 32, with young children, I was grateful, but still checked my smoke detectors.
At 42, I looked at my own family and was thankful that my sister’s passing would leave no children motherless.
At 47, I thought about Shirley and how much she had done for others all of her short life.
And when 50 comes, I will think about Missy and what a terrific grandma she would have been, and I will cherish every moment with my family.
Because sometimes, it feels like borrowed time.
photo credit tawest64