Jan. 29, 2013 — Weddings and babies — my daughters and their friends are in that phase of their lives, which provides a constant calendar of bachelorette parties, showers and destination nuptials.
Members of their generation are also purchasing their first homes and solidifying their careers. It’s an exciting time with a succession of milestones ahead — christenings, first days of school, tooth fairies, Little League, proms and graduations.
Then there will be a lull.
Life is fairly scripted for the first several decades of our lives. We grow up, go to school, graduate, work, have children, raise our families, and then the future is ours to write. But the outline ends and the chapters are no longer defined.
That’s my generation.
There is less ahead than lies behind.
Recently someone sent me an essay by Nora Ephron, written when she was 61. I read it with great anticipation, hoping that the woman who penned some of my favorite movies (think “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail”) would make aging a romantic comedy. I was wrong.
There was nothing touching or funny about it. If Nora Ephron couldn’t put a positive spin on getting older, who could?
What resonated for me was her observation that as you age, minor aches or pains that were mere inconveniences when experienced in youth could be a precursor to something serious at this age. She reminisced about friends she had lost — those who were fine one day and the recipients of a deadly diagnosis the next.
Skin abnormalities that manifest as freckles in youth are diagnosed as melanoma on a less fresh face.
A sore throat that signaled tonsillitis and bowls of Jello at 12 is diagnosed as throat cancer with bouts of chemo at 70.
Calendars are dotted with blood tests and doctors’ appointments. Conversations revolve around the cost of prescription drugs and the best supplemental Medicare plan.
I’m not there yet, but it seems inevitable.
Even without a bleak diagnosis, life changes. Once limber limbs become brittle, springing up from the couch becomes a slow unraveling process and a brisk walk around the block becomes a shuffle.
My parents have enjoyed relative good health most of their lives, but old age is catching up with even them.
My 84-year-old dad’s woodpile is the envy of his Graeagle neighborhood. Until recently he chopped trees, split wood and stacked it in perfect rows. He built pathways to the woodshed, clearing the rocks and spreading the gravel.
He has always been a man in motion. He built our family home in Napa without a contractor in sight, added a garage and a pool. He needed a riding lawnmower so he built it. He played basketball with us for hours on our backyard court and coached my brothers’ sports teams.
I relished our early morning summer walks in Graeagle, when we’d head to the top of Yonkalla and loop through the meandering streets looking at the mountain homes. He would tell me the story behind each.
On one such walk 18 months ago, he had trouble catching his breath. We slowed down. We didn’t say much, both just chalking it up to aging.
A month later he would suffer a massive heart attack and undergo a triple bypass. He would be unconscious for days, but he survived. Our walks resumed, but on more level ground.
This past summer he had a lingering sore throat and a raspy voice. Diagnosis: vocal chord cancer.
He finished his last radiation treatment a couple of weeks before Christmas. His voice is returning. As he begins to mend, it’s his turn to take care of my mom who was recently hospitalized to fight an infection that settled in her leg.
She might have gone to the doctor sooner, but she was enmeshed in decorating, baking and wrapping for the holidays — as always trying to provide the most magical Christmas for her six children and their families.
She was a woman who went back to college and began her teaching career while I was in high school. She gave birth to my youngest brother on Easter break and was back at school the following week. She devoted herself to the children in her classroom and her kids at home. She was always on the go; it was hard to see her sidelined.
Recently my dad said he wished that he could be 70 again and my mother, who is 74, just wants to be 60. Since both of those milestones are still a few years away for me, and even Nora Ephron didn’t begin lamenting aging until she was 61, it gives me hope. I plan to make the most out of this decade. And since it’s my chapter to write, I had better get started.
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