The trouble with getting older isn't necessarily what happens to the body as it ages. What I've found most relevant is the regular reminders of age that come from without.
Age is a relative entity. No matter how old you are (or how old you feel), there is always someone who is older (unless you're 100+, but I doubt any of them are reading this blog). I can say, "I don't feel old," to which someone, depending on their relative age, may respond, "You're not!" And, it's true, most days I don't feel anywhere near my mid-30's. Then, I talk with my twenty-something coworker, or my teenage nephews, or my son asks a question about when I was little and I think, “Oh, yeah…I’m not that young anymore.” Sometimes high school doesn't feel so far off, until I realize that my 20th Reunion is only two years away. That sounds so long ago. Seriously? When did that happen? It seems like I blinked and 18 years went by.
Then I look in the mirror. It could be worse. I still have a full head of hair, something that not all guys my age can claim. Though the red has faded a bit, the gray has yet to truly show up. I know it's in there though, I can hear it taunting me. The smile lines are starting to take root around my eyes. My hands sometimes look like I've borrowed them from some old guy. I haven't put on more than twenty pounds since high school, which some might call a blessing. I would, but I've been underweight ever since high school...and still am. What's most annoying is that what little weight I have added has landed in my stomach. Again, I could complain, but I know way too many people who would KILL to have only put on 20 lbs since high school. Yeah, I have a bad back…but, I’ve had a bad back since high school. Now, it just takes longer for it to go away.
I still look at other parents and automatically think, "I'm younger than them," which in some cases is actually true. But, many people seem to be having children later in life. We had our son when we were 30. Late for some, but I would say that the majority of my son's classmates have older parents (but, they also typically have more than 1 child as well). I think about my own parents and never feel quite as comfortable in the job as I thought they must have been when I was a child. I hope that my son feels confident in me, that I at least do a good enough job of faking it. It was probably having a child that made me most aware of my own parents and their roles in my life. Nothing opens your eyes to the inner workings of your own parents than having a child of your own. You know you've come full circle when you speak their words for the first time...then immediately loathe yourself for not coming up with something better ("If I have to stop this car..." Really? Did I just say that? Have I learned nothing?!). It's part of the process.
And, the unfortunate part of this process is dealing with the inevitable breakdowns, both physical and mental. The last year has brought its fair share of illness and inevitability to my parents, both of whom are now in their 70’s. Some we could see coming. Others, not quite as evident. Some things you choose to ignore for the moment because you don't want to address what they might mean down the road. A forgotten name, a repeated conversation, a shared laugh to cover up the fear. And then, you get a call. Not the call, but a call nonetheless. That thing that you allowed yourself to shelve but quietly worried about has finally come undone, refusing to go unheeded any longer. You are forced, kicking and screaming on both sides, to enter into that unwanted reversal of roles where parent becomes child and vice versa.
Some might approach it with a sense of duty and clinical removal. I've been unable to address it in this way. I allowed myself to ignore the signs, even while others commented and worried. Like the deer who possibly stares at the headlights in the hopes that, whatever it is, will go away. Now, faced with the reality of what is happening and the need for a response, I am caught flat footed. Reacting, of course, means that I must acknowledge that which I've denied. But, not reacting requires the type of denial that I am incapable of. So, I've been slow to react. Mainly, I've been compliant with the wishes of others. And, the entire situation has made me terribly introspective of late. Some is guilt-based: What could I have done to make it better? If I had not been content to ignore the signs, would it have made a difference today? If someone had been there, would it have made a difference? Some is selfish: Why now? Why me? How will this affect my life? Soon enough, the questions will have to be put aside to deal with the now. It does no good to wonder "what if" in the moment. And, whether I like it or not, the moment has arrived. Yes, it could move on without me, but I don't want to be a spectator at a time when participation is necessary.
With so much going through my head lately, it's been hard to consider the little things. I've been short and irritable with my family at times. My motivation for nearly everything constructive has been nil. It's a dangerous trap that I've tried to avoid, but it's hard to not be distracted when reality knocks so hard. I look at my son and kiss him and give him a big hug and hope in vain that, as much as he loves me, he won't be devastated when I start to make my exit. It's a foolish, selfish, hypocritical sentiment...to hope that someone won't be affected when they see the sun setting on the life of someone they love. If I live my life to be a positive influence on the lives of others, how ridiculous is it to then ask that they treat my end with a detached reserve.
If you’ve read this, thanks for sticking it out. If writing isn’t therapeutic, I’m not quite sure what is. And, having written way more non-writing blog entries than writing-based entries, I’m beginning to see this blog as my psychoanalyst’s couch….without the $100/hour fee.
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