My friends and I often joke about how getting older “is not for the faint of heart.” When we say this, we are usually talking about how our physical bodies have changed as we age and how we notice our brains don’t fire as quick as they once did. I am sure you have heard the warning to be careful who you hang around. Your friends say a lot about who you are and influence what you believe. I have been abundantly blessed with good, smart friends who work to age well and live well. While we typically don’t ascribe to the “40 is the new 60” madness (spoiler alert: it’s not), we share often about what new research we have read or new tactics we have learned to help us on this journey.
However, what I am learning, is that it is not so much the physical and mental losses, but the loss of people in your life, that really jolts you as you age. It feels like the most gut-wrenching punch when people in your immediate family die. It’s like they didn’t understand the assignment: For us to be a family you have to be here. You can’t die, that messes it all up! As you age, you look at photos and start counting who is no longer alive. I have a photo that I keep on my nightstand. It was taken on the morning of my wedding day, almost 40 years ago. In the picture my mom is seated. My six siblings and I stand behind her. I am so thankful that my oldest sister Bertha insisted that we take this picture. It was a busy day, but Bert arranged for the wedding photographer to come in the morning to get the shot.
From that wedding morning picture, my mom, my oldest brother Henry and my sister Bertha have all died. I miss them all. While the picture makes me a bit sad, it also conjures up memories of that day. That particular photo reminds me that, in a few short hours later I would be a nervous bride, standing in the entranceway of my church as my brother Henry escorts me down the aisle; my arm wrapped around his. Before we step through the door, he turned to me and said, “You say the word kid, and we are out of here.” Always the jokester, he wanted to make me laugh because he knew I was scared. I knew he was joking but also knew if I did say I wanted to leave he would have absolutely gotten me out of there. That’s what big brothers do. That picture has become so precious to me; it’s like Bert was looking after me and could tell the future. She knew what would bring comfort as I continue this journey called life without three of my most beloved and trusted travelers.
What is also jarring and sad is the realization that one day someone, somewhere will look at a photo with me pictured and I will no longer be there. I too will be missed. My sincere prayer is that they will find what they need to comfort them and gamely continue on their journey to age well and live life abundantly. That’s what I try to do in honor of my mom, Henry and Bertha. I know without a doubt that is what they would want for me.