Saturday, May 6, 2017

Being thankful for growing old

I recently caught a couple of talk shows where Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, made an appearance to promote her new book, Plan B. Having lost her husband suddenly a few years back, she shared about how she had to cope with that devastating loss. One comment she made struck me profoundly - that we should never take life for granted or gripe about growing old. “We moan and groan about ageing,” she said, “but I realized that my husband will never see 50.”

2016 seemed to be filled with many unexpected deaths in my circle - I counted as many as five friends who lost their child too early. I remember trying to comfort a lady who is in her eighties whose son had suddenly collapsed and died at the age of 55. We usually say “the good die young” but I felt that that was a wholly inappropriate comment to an elderly person. I recently learned a saying that my Muslim friends have, that the departed were taken way too early because “God loves them more”. I like that. It's truly comforting.

Having recently entered my sixth decade, I am acutely aware that my days on earth are numbered. Despite how wild and crazy the characters in Grace and Frankie are, they too are facing the inevitability of their bodies and minds declining and breaking down.

Every day, I am reminded about my own mortality. There’s not a day when I don’t wake up with pain of some sort. Arthritic fingers. Aching limbs. Failing memory. I know that when I go for my checkup soon that my doctor will tell me my cholesterol level is up and God knows what else.

As much as I bitch about growing older, I am grateful for life itself. I have friends who died too young, never having seen their children grow up, go off to college, get married, have families of their own. My sister succumbed to cancer at 58, and never lived to see her only daughter get married or meet her grandson.

Sheryl Sandberg said that she is grateful for the little things that bring her some measure of joy, like a cup of coffee. Oftentimes it’s the little things - the whiff of a scent that sparks great memories. A comment from a child that cracks you up. Rather than moan and groan about ageing, I've found that it helps to just laugh about the pitfalls of growing old. And finding friends who can laugh along with me.

While I am filled with gratitude that i am blessed with reasonably good health, I still don’t know what to say or how to comfort those who have lost loved ones. Words seem inadequate and so, more than often than not, we keep quiet. And that’s what Sheryl Sandberg says doesn’t help. Oftentimes the ones grieving need to hear that we are there for them, to listen, or talk, or just spend time with them.

Time does heal, to a certain extent, but the big hole left by the loss of a loved one will always be there. We can celebrate their time with us and remember them in every way possible. I also want to be grateful for my own life and not take anything for granted. I don’t know how much longer I have but I want to make every day count.

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