Carol Shwanda chronicles her blended family's lives and experiences offering hope, guidance, wisdom, inspiration and humor to anyone who is in or about to enter into a blended family.
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THE LUXURY OF GETTING OLD
I miss my children being young and I miss being young with them. I have age spots. Some of my parts are wearing out and starting to sag. I used to scoff at the aging process by reassuring myself, “I won’t mind looking old so long as I don’t feel old.” I was delusional. Getting old sucks. I’d have a midlife crisis about this if I had time. My second greatest fear after getting and feeling old is becoming a cliche, like an aging movie star with way too much “work”. I am here to tell you that the alternative to getting old is dying young, and that sucks more.
My best friend Cindy and I met in the park when our oldest children were babies. She was my first friend here in California and my savior when I went through my divorce. We clicked immediately and from the first time we met, we either saw each other or spoke on the phone every day.
One of the many things we had in common was our birthdays , which were only a few days apart, except she was three years older. What we didn’t have in common was that I always looked forward to my birthday and celebrated for days before and after. Cindy, on the other hand, did not. When our birthdays rolled around I would always call her and say, “Hey, let’s go our for lunch and celebrate our birthdays.” She would always decline. She never wanted to go. At first I thought her hesitance was due to the fact that she didn’t like being the center of attention, which was true. She was a very private person. Over time I realized the true reason for her reluctance. Cindy saw birthdays as an acknowledgement that she was getting old. Once I realized this, being the sensitive, compassionate friend that I was, I mocked her. Every year, a few days before her birthday I would call her and say, “So, your birthday is coming up. How old are you going to be? Let’s see. I’m 37 so that must make you 40!” She’d groan, “Don’t mention it.” With persistence, I’d eventually convince her to have lunch with me and I would chuckle when she held the menu at arm’s length so she could read it, since she refused to be seen in public with reading glasses.
When Cindy was 43 she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and a year later, after an horrific fight to live, she died. She was 44. She left behind her only child, Molly, who was 10. A few months before she died I went to visit her. I remember thinking that in spite of her illness, how beautiful she was. She had been reading a women’s magazine and it was opened to a page with ads for Botox. Gesturing to the magazine and with profound irony she said, ” All of this fear of getting old stuff is such crap. Botox, liposuction, plastic surgery. It is all such crap. I’m never going to have wrinkles. I will never experience the luxury of getting old.” Later, upon reflection, I was taken aback by her choice of words. The “luxury” of getting old. Who knew getting old was a good thing? A luxury. I was so relieved. It was a defining moment in my life and one I promised her I would always remember. When her next birthday rolled around Cindy wasn’t up to many visitors. I bought her a bouquet of flowers and card and left them on her doorstep. I wrote in my note: ” Dear Cindy, I want to see you get old because for as long as I live I want to take pleasure in knowing that no matter how old I am, you will always be older.” She called me later that day and said, “So do I.” We had a good laugh. A few months later she was gone.
As a tribute to Cindy I made a vow to myself to not only age gracefully, but to accept it with pride and gratitude. Now when I look in the mirror I no longer bemoan my wrinkles, age spots or bulging middle. Instead I am grateful that I have lived long enough to experience them in the first place. To Cindy– the most beautiful, natural beauty there ever was.