You don’t get to 51 without knowing what loss feels like. How it envelops you, sucks the marrow from your bones, leaving you feeling brittle and at times, broken.
My mother died almost 14 years ago. My father died six years ago. Long before my mother died, she had a stroke when I was 29 and she was 49. Long before my father died, we disappointed each other a lot. After they were both dead, I found out that he wasn’t my actual biological father. And then I found my actual biological father. But this isn’t that essay.
Friends have come and gone. A few have died while others just left because the relationship had died. So yes. I know what loss feels like.
But do you want to know what else I’ve lost? My collagen and probably a little bit of estrogen. I’ve also lost my ability to think the train (my life, it’s a metaphor) will never get to the end of the line. I’ve lost the feeling that there are more probabilities than possibilities. I miss when my upper arm skin stayed where it was supposed to; attached firmly to my upper arm. I’ve stopped waving to people. All over town people are probably like, “I saw her but she didn’t wave back.” I’m reluctant to even raise my hand in a social setting like a lecture. So I raise it so slow that everyone is waiting for my arm to reach full extension. “Does she have a question or is she just stretching?”.
What I’ve really lost is something I never knew I had. The greatest commodity of all time; time. If I’m the train and the end of the line is my death, let’s just say, I’ve blown through more than half the stations and I never stopped to think that the train doesn’t go backwards. Plus, I should’ve spent more time in the dining car.
I know. You might be thinking, “You’re so young and still so beautiful!” (she says snickering). But let’s be real. 50 is not the new 40. 40 is not the new 30. That’s so ridiculous. At 15, did we say, “15 is the new 5”? No, because that’s dumb.
What you lose when you age is innocence–the innocence of believing that you have all the time in the world, that you’ll always be able to sleep through the night. Believing that when you wake up, the wrinkles on your face will be gone by the time you’re done with your morning pee. You’ll still believe your parents will live a long time. You’ll believe that you have all the days and nights in the world to see them, hug them and hear them say, “I love you.” And if you’re me, you’ll still believe your parents are actually your parents (again, she says snickering).
For awhile, I went through a stage (okay, it was less a stage and more like a decade), where I wanted to stop all the young women on the street and say, “Enjoy that collagen. Enjoy that gorgeous, thick hair that doesn’t need to be colored. Enjoy that line-free face and those regular monthly menstrual cycles. Enjoy those arms. Seriously. Those arms.” But then I decided that some people might think I’m crazy and resentful and bitter and pissed off. And old. Nah. I want them to be just as surprised as I am. I don’t want to be the ghost of Christmas future. No one liked that ghost.
And now I think, I just want to slide into it all. Not lean. Slide. When I was a kid, I’d go to the park after a good rain (Oregon) and practice my slides in the mud (I had plans to play for The Dodgers). So, I’m going to just keep sliding into aging. It feels more powerful than leaning. Plus, when I lean, so does the skin on my upper arms.
I want us to keep remembering, like one of those dumb mantras, that it goes by fast. That watching your mother take her last breath will crack your heart open. That it will feed a new muscle that will be fed in years to come with each loss, sorrow and disappointment. This muscle will be your resiliency. Know that if you miss out on holding your parent’s hand as they take their last breath, that it’s okay. It doesn’t make you or your love or your dedication, less than. Know that if you stay true to your fundamental self, you can’t lose. Not for long anyway. Whether you’re 51 or 55, 64 or 38, that’s how old you are. You don’t have be the new anything. You’re great just as you are. Not to sound like Dr. Suess, but you are who you are.
It’s okay to be right where you’re at.
Stay on the train.
Visit the dining car and have the cake.
Nod to the conductor. Nodding avoids the whole arm skin waving thing.
And when you get to the end of line, even when you didn’t see it coming, know that it was a good trip.
When Cheri isn’t outside running, mountain biking, hiking, or drinking coffee, she’s inside avoiding laundry and the mess she inevitably left in the kitchen. She has three kids ages 11, 14 & 17 and a wonderfully patient husband who calls her his fourth child. In her spare time, she’s a life coach and a high school mountain bike coach. She feels very lucky to have made it to 51. You can read her blog at www.distilledcoaching.com where she promises to make you laugh and make you think.