The sun blazed and the air was humid, a typical mid-west August day. My sisters, their spouses, John and I spent the morning preparing the backyard for the big 70th surprise celebration. A tent was raised, tables were decorated, chairs placed, libations iced, and music from the 40’s and 50’s played as party goers arrived with platters of food, placing their presents next to the cake resplendent with 70 candles. When Mom arrived, fresh and tanned from her third ‘weight loss spa’ southwest vacation, she grinned with pleasure, clapped her hands like a kid, and then waddled as quickly as she could to greet and hug her friends and family.
It was a good day, that day in 1993, but what I saw, beyond the laughter and celebrating, made me pause. I was 47 that year with a daughter newly married at 21. I sat there in disbelief that I could ever become 70, to be like my mom that rapidly aging, docile, physically unfit woman, walking with a cane to keep her balance. Was that to be my future? “Of course not,” I said to myself and I shook it off.
Fast forward twenty plus years. This Saturday I turn 70, my daughter is now 44 with sons 17 and 21. Well, it happened, slapping me in the face yelling, “Wake up Girl!” I am dumbfounded because even though I am physically not at all like my Mom was, I am filled with deep apprehension that is giving birth to panic-like feelings that I am running out of time, counting the years I have left instead of the years yet to come. It’s a subtle difference, but a difference that has transformed me from outward thinking with a lust for life to inward thinking folding in on myself worrying whether I’ll have to the strength and time to enjoy what’s left in my life.
Then there are the dreams that haunted me, like the one when our boat ran aground in a narrowing, overgrown river that we couldn’t escape from. I didn’t need a therapist to figure that one out. The dreams were compounded with everyday reality. In the past four months — one friend had a hip replacement replaced; two friends had a third and double knee surgeries; another friend had a full shoulder replacement; another friend lost her husband to lung and brain stem cancer; another friend with a rare thyroid cancer is taking targeted genomic therapy to save her life; and another friend had emergency surgery with new complications in November. And these are just my closest friends. That doesn’t count what my sisters and their husbands went through this past year.
As you can see, there’s more than a bit of reality reinforcing my inward thoughts. My normal way of dealing with such feelings was to go the water and get our boat where I am spiritually renewed when I breathe in salt air and engulf myself in soothing movements of the boat under sail. But it’s winter and we were land locked.
I know my feelings and situation were not unique. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day now, many people are faced with far worse. I realize now that my 70’s are not going to be the new 60’s. The 70’s are a new world of unexpected events that may be out of my control and may take me in directions I do not want or anticipate. However, no matter what lies ahead, for me, it’s all about recovering my ability to adapt, to cope positively, not negatively, jus like Terry McMillan wrote in her 1998 book, How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
I’ve lost my groove before. I’ll find it again — after I get past Saturday. Happy Birthday everyone!