Being 51

It's been more than a year since I hit the big Five O. And I still can't get used to the idea that I'm in my fifties. At the same time, I'm very thankful to be in my fifties. My mom died two weeks after her 49th birthday. I know that it's a blessing to reach this age, and that not everyone does. I have aches and pains I didn't have a few years ago. I don't like the aging process or the changes being forced upon me physically. But I have never loved or appreciated my life as much as I do right now. And I am appreciating every day because I live with an awareness that these are the best years of my life. I know I am living precious moments that I will look back on and hold dear in my memories when I'm really old (if I get to be really old). And I am savoring my life. I am taking nothing for granted.

When Joshua was born, I looked at him in awe and thought, "Wow. I have a grandson." Now that four and a half years have gone by and I have seen two grandbabies become little people, I look at my third grandson and think, "I want to savor every moment of holding him while he is this little." I am helping to care for him today. At some point, this little infant may be helping to care for me. I know how fast the time is going to go. I want to cherish every moment.

A friend and I were talking about premature death not long ago. She is also in her fifties. She lost her husband less than a year ago. At the time of our conversation, she said "He has been gone for seven and a half months. But this time a year ago, we didn't even know anything was wrong." It's surreal. She was sharing with me how she never contemplated NOT growing old with her husband. I, on the other hand, live with an awareness of premature death and the reality of unexpected loss. It's not only because of the premature loss of my mom (when I was just twenty-eight). Two of my mother's friends (mothers of my friends) died in their forties; one in a car accident and another in a dirt bike accident out in the California desert. One of my best friends lost her husband while we were all still in our twenties. He had a fatal accident in his big rig. My paternal grandmother died of cancer at forty-nine. My mother's brother died at sixty-two of Lou Gherig's Disease. In the early eighties, a friend's little girl (who played with my son in the church nursery) was hit by a truck and killed when she was only three. I know how fragile life is and how it can change in a moment. It didn't take John's diagnosis to make me realize that.

When we were first married, I would occasionally give John little pep talks on working too much. He is a hard worker who takes his responsibilities very seriously. He was raised that way. He cannot watch other people do the work. He can't do it in business OR at home. (If there's a dish to be washed, he is the first one at the sink EVERY TIME.) John has always worked six days a week (except for the times he worked seven days a week earlier in his career). And when I met him, he was leaving for the dealership by 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning and not getting home until 8:00 pm or after. He was running two dealerships and spending a lot of time on the road between the two. He'd come home earlier on Saturdays, but he still worked a full day.

I remember telling him (many times) that he shouldn't devote all of his time and energy to business; that he needed to carve out a little more personal time for himself and for us. And he would explain that he was working hard now so that he could retire the way he wanted to. I can't count how many times he told me that in four or five more years he would begin to slow down and take more time off. (As years passed, though, it was still always "in four or five more years," which I teased him about quite often.) He would tell me all the places we were going to go and the things we would be able to do - that he couldn't wait to not have to work anymore and he could spend all of his time with me. But he had to keep working this hard for a few more years. And I would always say, "But you are assuming that both of us will still be here and both of us will be healthy enough to do these things when you feel 'comfortable enough.'"

I never assumed that. And in the sweetest way possible, I would remind him (often with tears in my eyes), "I just want you. I don't care about fancy trips or seeing the world. I could be happy never leaving the house, as long as I'm hanging out with you. Today is what we have. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds. I don't want to give up all our time together now for the future time that we might not have." And I really meant it.

My reality was not John's reality at the time. He very good naturedly listened, gave me a hug and a kiss, and assured me it wouldn't be that many more years before we were really enjoying the fruits of his labor; which would include lots of time together. And then in 2007, he was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

We've spent a lot more time together since his diagnosis. Some of that time has been in wonderful places like Israel and Barbados. But more of it has been in the treatment room of Sarah Cannon. And because John and I both get through things with a sense of humor, I've teased him, "This is one heck of a way to get to spend more time with you."

I'm not sharing this to be a downer. I'm not down. I'm appreciating every day. What I hope is that someone reading my blog might learn this important lesson without having to receive a diagnosis. Preparing for the future and living in the moment (which is all any of us really have) is a delicate balancing act. I can't tell you how many CLL patients and caregivers I know today who say they learned how to appreciate the gift of today only after receiving an unwanted diagnosis. I do think about my mortality much more at 51 than I did in my twenties. But I faced premature loss early in my life. I've never expected to die young because my mom did. And I have not lived in fear of loss. But the reality of life changing in a moment has always been on my radar to some extent. And it is now more than ever.

Life is full of challenges. When I met and married John, I felt like Cinderella. I remember looking forward to being together long enough to have a shared history and shared memories. We were 44 and 49 when we got married and I remember thinking that if we lived to be 84 and 89, we could still be married for forty years! It made me happy to think about that possibility. I knew one of us could get cancer or be hit by a truck. But it seemed totally possible that we could one day be that cute little older couple who still held hands. And then we received an unexpected diagnosis less than four years into our fairytale marriage. But I know I am right where God placed me. And along with the joys I have been given, I embrace the challenges I have been given. There is no place I would choose to be other than right where I am.

For those of you who haven't reached my advanced age, let me assure you that being in your fifties is a lot more good than bad. I keep reminding myself of that when I feel stiff and achy, when I look in the mirror or get on the scale. There will always be challenges in life. Life on planet earth is not a fairytale. But we do have fairytale moments and seasons. And we must savor them.

I've found time and time again that by focusing on the joys and the rewards of living, I can better face my challenges and accept them. Here are three of my joys and rewards:


Anonymous said…
Hi Shari: I just wanted to say, your Grandsons are beautiful. And you can be justly proud of them. And I know Danny and his wife are. I just know you and John will continue in your fairy tale marriage, and my Prayers are for you. Seems we don't talk as much, but, you are Gods child, and thats what draws people to you. May Gods Blessings be yours always. Larry&Deanna
Hi Shari,

I too had to have an "attitude" adjustment last year when I turned 50! Especially not having children and thinking "where did the last 20 years go?" I also married later in life a somehow ended up in Murfreesboro TN! There are things that I wished I would have done when I was younger but also realize that it's not too late to write my Bologna Cafe novel or Kenny Rogers screenplay! I know God's hand led me to my sweetie and is continuing to work in our lives. Glad to have weaved our way into you and John's lives! And you're grandsons are so adorable!
Shari said…
Thank you, Larry. Yep, I am pretty proud of my grandbabies. Like every other grandma, I suppose! Thank you for your prayers and your friendship.

Janet, I will always be thankful that God made us friends, too! I just wish we got to see each other more often. You and Don are very special to John and me!