And Why It Really Matters….
I was convinced that my 50th birthday would be the beginning of a rapid decline toward bad health and dependency on others. The first signs were sure to be the onset of dementia, an immediate loss of hearing and uncontrollable incontinence.
Of course, I was wrong. The day came and went and I started my sixth decade on earth just as I ended my fifth—with full cognitive functionality, hearing (albeit impaired) and the ability to control my bladder largely intact. I am learning that aging is not about precipitous mental or physical declines or the dramatic loss of a bodily function. Fortunately, aging has had little effect on my physical well-being.
Not that there aren’t physical consequences to aging. My back stiffens a bit when I sit too long and my metabolism has slowed much more than my appetite. I now wear bifocals and, in the territorial battle for possession of my scalp, the grey hairs are soundly defeating the dark ones. But, all things considered, I feel good.
I do not take good health at this age for granted. In fact, I have tremendous respect for the alternative, because I have seen it up close. Both my mother and my best friend, Mark, succumbed to cancer not long after they reached 50; my mother in 1984 at the age of 52 and Mark in August of 2010 at 51. By the time they reached my age, they were embroiled in a fight for their life. It was a fight they both lost, but their battles, and the strength and courage with which they were fought, have been constant reminders that at 50, good health, and life itself, is precious.
Despite those reminders, I no longer fear aging. Instead, I feel an overwhelming need to face it head on. Examining every aspect of my life, I now look for weaknesses to banish and strengths to emphasize. I am trying to do better and to be better. I am planning. I don’t want to squander whatever time God decides to grant me.
I owe at least that much to my mother.
She was not a traditional Italian mother. She worked outside of the house and preferred eating in restaurants to cooking. When it came to her family, however, she was typically Italian. She was a matriarch, as loving as she was strong, who valued family above all else. She died a year after I was married, so she barely knew me as an adult. She didn’t see me become an attorney and she wasn’t part of my journey to parenthood. Oh, how she would have enjoyed that journey. The only thing she would have valued more than being a mother would have been being a grandmother.
I owe it to Mark, as well.
We were the Best Man at each other’s weddings. Back then, we lived in different cities. When we were together, we didn’t much talk about having children. After a few years, our oldest daughters were born within a month of each other. Three years later, our youngest daughters were born five months apart. We did not plan it that way, but it was fitting.
We would often talk about the rest of our lives as we smoked cigars and drank scotch. We had plans. We were going to watch our girls grow up and scare away the unworthy teenage boys who surely would come calling. We would become grandparents, drink more scotch and smoke more cigars.
But we planned on doing it together.
You are supposed to be planning your retirement at 50, not your funeral. You are supposed to be helping your parents face their mortality, not comforting them as they contend with the loss of their own child.
Now that I am 50 I realize that, in a sense, the remainder of my life is a surrogate for the life my mother and Mark were denied. To honor their memories, I am compelled to live my life fully and well and to not only accept aging’s natural decline, but to embrace it.
I owe it to them.
John Marchese is an attorney, writer, imperfect father and husband of a perfect wife and mother. He is a shareholder at Colucci & Gallaher, P.C. in Buffalo, New York and a frequent contributor to The Disney Driven Life. John may be reached, followed or ignored at jjmarchese.com and on Facebook and Twitter.