A few days ago, I turned 56. BREAKING NEWS! STOP THE PRESSES! A late-middle-aged lady turns more aged!
For most people, this is not a significant milestone — just yet another boring farty number in the progressive levels of boring fartiness on the road to old age. But for me? It’s a mind-blower for multiple reasons.
My father was 56 when I was born.
Were he alive today, he’d be 112. I REPEAT, 112. He was born in 1907, which, I know now thanks to the oracle of Google, predates the Model T by a year. More than half a century later, I punched and squeezed my way out of the birth canal. You are allowed to be amazed. I am dumbfounded. He had a baby! At my age now! Can I imagine doing that? No. No, I cannot. I REPEAT, NO.
And yet when I look at this charcoal drawing of Daddy in his mid-to-late 50s, I see a man radiating zesty charisma. I see so much, too, that mirrors my own face: The gray hair. The dark eyes. THE EYEBROWS. I’d like to think I resemble him when I laugh.
He lived to 85, dying before the birth of my three children and all the loving wonders that they brought. He missed all of that, and I’m now twice the age I was when I buried him. I’ve lived as long on this earth in his absence as I did before he left me.
My husband wasn’t quite 56 when he died.
Which means I’ve now hit an age that Chris never reached. Again I am dumbfounded. It reminds me of the day I turned 32, overtaking my big sister Lucy four years after her death. How is this supposed to work? I wondered then. How am I supposed to live and grow old without her up ahead, showing me how it’s done?
When Chris died, I wondered again how I would do it. How I would forge ahead in grief and hope. What it would mean to stumble through the thickets without him. Were he alive today, he’d be 63. I look at his image and see the the old sparkle in his eyes, the humor, the kindness, the smarts, and I imagine how he might have aged. The gray hair a little whiter, for sure. A few more wrinkles on that handsome mug. But what else would be there? What else would I see and take for granted? What new eccentricity or experience would be etched in that smile, in those eyes?
This Thursday marks the anniversary of his suicide.
Eight years filled with laughter and anguish and joy, with new friends and new life and new love and new music and new adventures and the everyday, ongoing, God-almighty miracle of watching my children thrive and turn into adults. Eight years of remembering Chris. Eight years of wondering why he died and what might have been had he lived instead. Eight years of accepting, in blessed moments of clarity and surrender, that I can’t and won’t know, ever. That knowing is impossible.
Eight years of saying: I loved him. I love him still. I always will. I grieved his death. I grieve him still. I always will.
Eight years of living in spite of it. Eight years of knowing he’d want me to. Eight years of sensing that love begets love, that life begets life, that getting older is always a gift, and that those who know this best are the mourners and the mourned.
So here I am, a little older. Wiser, maybe. Creakier in the knees. Living and loving as best I can with dear kids, dear friends, dear family, a dear man to hold, an interesting job, a fiddle in my hand and a heart that still pumps blood.
Chris died at 55. I’m 56, a milepost he never reached. I have to believe he’s celebrating.