Promissory Notes

We arrived in Iowa in time to talk with my father one last time before the cancer overwhelmed him and he was too weak and taking too much pain medication to be conscious of his surroundings. I hadn’t done the death bed thing in a while but it is surprising how similar slow death is regardless of the affliction.

My first husband will be dead three years this coming January. My husband Rob passed the two year anniversary of his first wife’s death this past August. But his experience with last days and final hours exceeds mine. He was with his mother-in-law a year ago when ALS claimed her, and just two months later we sat a phone vigil for her husband.

As we dressed for Dad’s funeral, Rob asked me,

“Do you think it’s possible to get everyone in the family to promise not to die for at least the next couple of years?”

He was speaking of our mothers and my Auntie in particular but it could have easily applied to everyone else. We do not believe that death is reserved only for those who’ve lived long full lives anymore. Life has taught us differently.

“No,” I told him. “And I think what is really bothering you is that we are losing the top strata of family and soon we will be the old folk.”

As I stood in the receiving line watching Mom greet, chat, joke and cry with people who never seemed to stop coming through the door, I was struck by how old we all looked. My cousins, who I remember as teens and twenty-somethings, peered out at me through time roughened faces. Hair has thinned, grayed or disappeared completely. We have bellies of all shapes and sizes, and children who run the age gamut from infant to grown with children of their own. And we remind me of our parents, aunts and uncles now. We have taken their places.

As a child, I had no concept of my parents aging. I don’t know when I suddenly realized Mom and Dad were not just older but old in an elderly way, and I didn’t like the implications for myself in that revelation. Middle age is this endless expanse where you wake up one morning and linger until the next shift in the space/time continuum drops you seamlessly, almost, into the golden years.

I wish I could promise my husband we will not get older or sick or that bedside vigils will not be a part of our immediate or distant future, but it’s as impossible as keeping whiskers off my chin. We were built to swim along in the current of life and it only flows forward no matter where you stand on the planet. And I am okay with it. I like this aging lady who inspects me curiously from the vanity mirror each morning. She appears to be someone worth getting to know.


This was an original 50 Something Moms post.

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