Route 60

Rt 60

When I wrote about turning sixty a couple of months ago, I talked about not obsessing about age, being on the home stretch of life, looking forward to retirement, and things of that nature.  All of that is and remains true, but something interesting has happened in the weeks that have followed, as I begin my voyage on Route 60 and beyond: I have become introspective about what that milestone means, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

This isn’t going to be a maudlin, woe is me lament, because I’m not sad, depressed or in any way discouraged. But for some reason a light bulb has gone on in my mind about life going forward, and I’ve embraced it.

I knew retirement was a place on life’s map I would eventually reach, but I never gave it much thought because it was beyond the horizon, not even a blip on the radar. It was more conceptual than real. Oh, I planned for it in terms of 401Ks and things of that nature, but it was more conceptual than real, out of sight and out of mind. Reaching my seventh decade has changed that narrative, and not in a bad way.

Once this house is built and we have moved, I suspect this will become the next big thing to actively plan for. I need to work for as long as I can because the MS makes me a heavy consumer of healthcare services, I want to keep my health insurance for long as possible, and get most if not all of the social security benefits I am eligible for, assuming it is still solvent. The time frame I’m working with is six years, and the one thing I have learned about aging is that time seems to pass a lot more quickly than it did in my youth. So it will be here before I know it.

There might have been a time when I looked at this scenario with doom and gloom. I could have viewed it as the beginning of the end, when I had one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. I don’t see it that way now. Instead of it being the beginning of the end, I consider it the end of the beginning.

What is not to like about your time being your own, about not having to get up early to get ready for work? What  downside is there to planning ones day with stuff that you want to do, not stuff that you have to do. How can one not enjoy hanging out with your spouse and doing what you please. Granted, these years will also bring advancing age, and all the aches, pain and challenges that come with it, but I’m guessing they also bring a freedom that we only dream about when we are entrenched in a life dominated by kids, career and running a household.

I also know that being retired begins our final stretch of road in life, which can be unnerving. But that destination is like retirement was decades ago, a blip on the radar far beyond the horizon. So like the idea of retirement, I’ll mull that reality over when the time comes. My parents were both blessed with long life, passing at 96 and 92, so I am assuming longevity won’t skip a generation, the MS not withstanding. So maybe I’ll dwell on how much remains of that final stretch when I really am old. Like when I am in my eighties.

Meanwhile I am all in and looking forward to an empty nest to not having to shave if I don’t want to, and staying up as late as I want or sleeping in as much as I want. Maybe nothing will change as far as my grooming and sleeping habits are concerned, but it will be my choice.

I enjoy doing absolutely nothing, but that gets boring after a while, so I know K and I will need to find something to meaningfully occupy our time. I can see myself writing more, having all day at my disposal instead of the bits and pieces I grab now. The possibilities are endless, and I’m looking forward to having to having to make those decisions like a kid looks forward to seeing what Santa brought on Christmas eve. It’s a liberating thought.

Of course there is the issue of being able to afford retirement, but we have a good start on that front, and it will give me something else to plan for, which I enjoy doing. Even though I know the foundation in place will continue to grow, it’s hard to concentrate on that now as we burn through cash while the house is being built. I will focus on it like a laser beam once we are in the new house and have sold our current one. A clearer picture of our needs, and how much more can squirreled away while I remain a working slug, will emerge by then. There will no distractions or restrictions getting in the way of planning and preparing for building what we need to have our unfettered time together.

Six years should be more than enough to accomplish that. Getting reestablished in the new place is the first hurdle though, and that has created a separate vibe that grows as the house nears completion. More on that next week.

 

60

60

Today is the day I start my seventh decade, but I’m not hung up on age, and don’t remember ever having been. Except of course back when I was in my teens and wanted to hit that magic age where it was officially legal to do just about anything. After all, age is nothing but a label that lets the world how long you’ve been breathing, and perhaps a measuring stick regarding how you should look or act.

Still,  it makes me think back to some of the other memorable milestones, and what I was doing or how I felt at the time.

I was a senior in college when I turned 21. My future was a vast, blank landscape, but I didn’t think any further ahead than graduation day because I was having too much fun. My priorities in life were getting good grades, getting laid, playing baseball, and finding the next party. And not necessarily in that order.

At 25, I was on my own, living in a different state, and embarking on a career.

At 30, I was married, and in the process of buying my first house, which turned out to be a colossal money pit, and a hard lesson learned.

Some milestones bother people, but I never gave them much thought, except for the day I turned 35. I don’t know what so was traumatic about that particular age. I was entrenched in what turned out to be a successful career, happily married and wasn’t financially stressed. The thing about 35 was that, for the first time, I saw myself as getting older, which was a foreign concept until then. I was nearing middle age, and that bothered me. A lot. But it was short lived.

I was living in Southern Indiana when 40 came knocking, having uprooted several years earlier from Connecticut because there weren’t any opportunities to reach the next level in my career. The fact that I was getting sick of the state for some reason I can’t remember also factored into it, and I would have bet everything I owned that I would never return.

At 40, I was a first time father of a one year old and completely smitten. Things were good, as I was happy in both my personal and professional lives. Then people started dying, most of them unexpectedly, and we moved back to Connecticut within a year.

50 was a big one, but I didn’t feel like I was a half-century old. I wasn’t upset about getting love letters from AARP, but I didn’t exactly embrace it either. Truthfully, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I remember hearing someone say 50 is the new 30, and that felt right. I didn’t think of myself as old or being on the downhill side of life. K surprised me by having some dear friends fly in from out of state to celebrate the occasion. It was a wonderful surprise, and I had a great time. Too great, as it turned out, because I suffered acute stomach distress and upheaval due to alcohol consumption. That self-inflicted malady hasn’t occured since. Maybe wisdom does come with age.

In retrospect, the biggest development when the age of 50 came around was that MS entered my life the year before. I had a permanent limp that was just becoming noticeable. My foot was drooping, but I could still get around easily and do all the man things around the house. I didn’t need a cane yet, and I it would be another year before I experienced my first fall year. Still, the cracks in my armor were showing, and would soon become more pronounced.

I thought of 55 as the speed limit birthday, because that was the speed limit on most Connecticut highways for the longest time, but 55 meant nothing to me. It was just a number and another day, like all the others.

Now that I am 60, my thoughts are no different than in years past, other than the fact, well, I’m 60! Generously speaking, I am at the tail end of middle age, but realistically, I am well past the half-way point in life, and will soon be considered a senior citizen. How the hell did that happen so quickly?

Mentally, I don’t feel any different than when I was in my 20s and 30s, but I’m more in tune with the world around me. I’m better equipped to handle the curves life throws, and I’ve had my share of doozies. I enjoy the slower pace, and appreciate the little things. I’m content. I don’t get as hung up on the materialistic trappings of my youth, and stopped climbing the corporate ladder years ago. Of course, MS had a lot do with that.

I certainly enjoy winding down at night. I enjoy and appreciate sleep more, although K would tell you I don’t get nearly enough. She’s right about that, but when the clock hits 10, my head wants to hit the  pillow. Back in the day, the only thing I was interested in hitting when 10 rolled around was the road, because that is when the fun really started.

I find myself thinking about retirement, looking forward to an empty nest, and embracing this new stage in life. I’m looking forward to moving into the new house, where everything is on one floor, and being alone with my bride. I’m looking forward to greeting each day as a blank slate, where I’m free to do what I want. I’m looking forward to not having any time pressures or obligations. I’ve earned this, but it’s also a double-edge sword.

I understand this is going to be my last house, and that I am probably going to die there. I know that the sun is setting on the stretch of road I’m on, but hope this road is a long one, and that the view is beautiful when I reach its end. If I am fortunate to follow my parent’s path, I have another thirty plus years before I get there, which is half of the life I’ve already lived. I’m down for that.

60 is the on-ramp to this new road that I have just merged onto. It’s a scenic route with a slower speed limit, and I’m in no hurry to explore everything it has to offer. I plan on a leisurely journey, and to milk every pleasure I can. I am still middle aged, after all, but not for long.

My brother turns 70 in June, my next big milestone. When that occurs, I won’t be able to bullshit myself or anyone else. I will be old.

But it beats the alternative.

 

 

 

Mortality

mortality

My aunt suffered a stroke a little over a week ago, a bad one.  I didn’t get a chance to speak with her before Christmas. Strike that. I had every chance in the world, but did not make it a priority. I was busy, and rationalized (in hindsight, of course) that I’d call when things settled down after my trip to Florida. So I felt compelled to actually see her to say goodbye, tell her how much I love her, and thank her for being a wonderful Aunt.

I wasn’t looking forward to the trip because my cousin warned me about her condition. I knew she would be conscious and uncommunicative, but it was worse than that. I have no idea if she knew who was there or what was being said. She looked at me, but it was more like she looked through me, staring blankly into space. I just happened to be in her line of sight.

She showed the obvious signs of a stroke, kept picking at her blankets, the institutional garment she wore, mumbled constantly and looked much older than her 90 years. A  vibrant, engaging, funny and lovely woman was sadly reduced to this. Part of me felt like a voyeur, and all of me felt guilty for being there because I am sure she would not want people to see her in that condition.

Unless it is by our own hands, we never get to choose how we exit this life. Our final scene can often be so undignified, and that is was bothered me the most about seeing her that way. It would have been better if she was unconscious. She would have looked like she was resting comfortably, at peace, and more like the woman I knew and loved.

I drove away from that visit thinking about aging and our mortality. You’d have thought these musings would have occurred when my parents passed away within five months of one another in 2015, but that wasn’t the case.

Both had lived good, long and healthy lives. Dad was 96 and Mom 92. They were both mentally sharp as tacks through the end and both passed quickly. Dad had a massive stroke and was placed in hospice care. We kept a constant vigil around his bed for three full days. On the fourth day everyone who had taken turns watching over him spent the night at their houses, which is when he slipped away. I am sure it was because he never wanted people to fuss over him, so he waited until every was gone.

Mom had a cerebral hemorrhage and died within hours. She was living in an assisted living facility at the time, and K and her Mom had just spent the afternoon with her. She notified friends she was having dinner with that she felt funny and was seeing double, and they had someone escort her to the nurse when it happened. I’m told she slumped in her chair in front of the nurse, completely unconscious.

The assisted living facility called while I was out having dinner with Nidan. It didn’t sound ominous, but then a call from the ER doctor at the hospital she was taken to came, and that changed everything. We ended dinner immediately and I drove Nidan home, then rushed to the hospital, not really knowing what to expect. When I saw her in the emergency room, I instantly knew she was gone, even though she was still breathing. It was a shock and broke my heart, but after a spasm of heavy sobbing, I made some calls.

Unlike Dad,  she didn’t want to be alone when she slipped to the other side. It took a little over ninety minutes for K, Nidan, my brother and his wife, and a few others to gather in her room, and shortly after we were all there it looked like she might not be breathing. She wasn’t.

I was and still am grateful that my parents fears of a painful, lingering demise where they were an emotional and financial burden to their kids never materialized. I should be so lucky.

I grieved for the loss of my parents loss but was not devastated. After all, who wouldn’t sign up for the life they had and the way their lives ended?  But I was so busy with making funeral preparations for Dad, helping Mom move then watching after her in the interim, then handling her sudden and unexpected death, that the idea of aging and dying never occurred to me.

I think the reason it has now is because my Dad came from a large family of nine. I was really close to most of his brothers and sisters, having hung out at their houses as a kid in addition to summer vacations at the beach. Those times were so fun, carefree and innocent, and the memories are wonderful.

When my Aunt passes, which should be fairly soon considering she is on morphine and was placed at a hospice level of care, only one Aunt will remain. She is the baby of the family at 88, and is not in the greatest of health either. The end of the line is very near in terms of my Dad’s siblings. Once that occurs, the book will close on a significant chapter of my life, and my childhood will officially die with it.

I thought I felt that way in 2015, but the truth is I felt more like an orphan when my parents passed. It was weird knowing that the people who nurtured me, taught me, loved me unconditionally and shepherded me into successful adulthood were gone. The void was unimaginable, and the loss hurt. But I didn’t think about the stuff I am thinking about now, and think that’s because when my Aunts pass, the last remaining vestiges of those carefree years will be gone. I will become the adult for the generations to come, and one day, the roles will be reversed. I will be the one saying sayonara, and my nieces and nephews will be mourning me. Perhaps some of them will feel what I am feeling now.

I’m not fearful or morose, but have become introspective. How will my end of life scenario unfold, not only in terms of the how but the when? I’m turning 60 in a couple of months, which is not ancient by any means. But I have been on the downhill side of life expectancy for a while now, and have no idea how or if MS will hasten that fateful day or prolong the process. I certainly hope not because, perhaps not so ironically, I have the same fear my parents had about becoming an emotional and financial burden on my surviving family.

Mom and Dad were blessed with longevity, independence, and good physical/mental health. Is it too much ask that this not skip a generation? And while I’m at it, can the end be quick and painless, as it was for them? Hopefully the genes I’ve inherited will help make that happen.

I hope this hasn’t been too morbid, but don’t all of us think of these things at one time or another? I certainly plan on being around a while, and would love to able to celebrate my 100th birthday. I’m looking forward to my retirement years, playing with grandchildren and spoiling them rotten. I’m looking forward to an empty nest that I can enjoy with my lovely bride of thirty one years, and hope we can both thrive during the sunsets of our lives. We’ve earned that.

For now, however, another somber funeral is probably days away. The family will close ranks and all the cousins I grew up and hung out with as a kid will assemble with their families. Afterwards, we’ll laugh and rehash good memories, lament for the umpteenth time that it’s a shame we only get together for these types of occasions, and vow to change that. Who knows? Maybe this time it will actually happen.

Then we will return to our respective lives, and time will march on. The musings I’ve shared will also fade, but perhaps not completely vanish, and I don’t think that would be a bad thing. Maybe it will help me appreciate life more than being afflicted with MS has, and help me embrace every remaining day I have without sweating the small stuff I am still prone to do on occasion.

After all, I’m not a spring chicken anymore.