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The Gifts Of Age

“I would not give you back a year of life lived. Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life — it gave me me. It provided the time and experience and failures and triumphs and friends who helped me step into the shape that had been waiting for me all my life.” Anne Lamott

During the final days of his life, Jimmy told me that every time he looked at older people, he thought, “You are so lucky to have lived so long.”

On the days when I could barely drag myself out of bed or out of the house, I would hear Jimmy’s voice and think about all that he will never have the chance to experience — falling in love, getting married, having children, growing old. And I would get up and face the day.

I think a lot about old age these days. You’d think that growing up with parents who were 39 and 60 years old when I was born would have made me acutely aware of it at a young age. But my parents were vibrant, curious, active and engaged, and they both acted much younger than their years. When my father and grandmother each died at the age of 102 respectively, I thought that’s how life worked. You took care of yourself physically and mentally; you made the “right” choices; you kept yourself safe, and the reward was a long, full life.

Jimmy is an anomaly in my family which is full of people who lived to a ripe old age. When he was initially diagnosed with brain cancer, I was arrogant enough to think I could save him using a combination of the best doctors and sheer will. It was shattering to realize that, in the end, I was powerless to stop the cancer that cost him his life.

I would give everything I have, including my life, to have my son back. But that is not a bargain I have the power to make. So instead I focus on all that life and death, grief and loss, love and wounds, age and children have taught me. I am learning to tell my new Cinco de Mayo capri yoga pants that they are not allowed to have an opinion about how well I fit into them, and that if my mind wanders more than it used to during a meeting that, most of the time, I can catch up before anyone notices. I can’t multi-task the way I used to or run an eight and a half minute mile. Things creak and pop and refuse to stretch when I work out. I often can’t reach my toes, and my feet hurt like a mother when Molly and I stood in high heeled boots for five hours at the Lady Gaga concert. But outside of having the chance to be with Jimmy again, I wouldn’t go back to my younger self. I’m more at home in my body, more comfortable with what I have to offer. When a project doesn’t work out or a prospective client declines to hire me, I learn what I can from the defeat and move on.

Although I still dye my hair, I am grateful for every one of my gray hairs because they mean that I am still here, aging and learning and finding my way. I’d love to lose ten pounds (okay, maybe 15) but I refuse to give up dessert and barbecue potato chips and Mexican food. Every day I think of one of the last things Jimmy said to me during the final hours of his life in a Dilaudid-induced haze:

“Whenever I drop off a rental car, I think about how incredibly lucky I am.  And whenever I go to sleep at night, I think about how incredibly lucky I am.”

Me, too, sweet boy. Me, too.

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