The Mortality Dialogues

The last leaves cling to the trees, defiantly bright as the wind tries to strip them from the branches and pile them on the ground in a tapestry of yellows, oranges, and crimson. Despite a couple of chilly days, 60-plus highs reprieve us from the inevitable crash of the temps as the month winds down. This will not last forever, I know.

Nothing does. A couple of weeks ago on a dark windy day, my stylist trimmed the last of my autumn-toned hair ends. I colored my hair through my forties, various shades of blonde, a lighter brunette, even red once. As the journey into my fifties launched, the cost in time, upkeep, and money to have a younger woman’s hair became questionable. When she was done, the final three inches of what had turned brassy and dried lay on the floor around the chair with a few snippets of the original dark brown, now with streaks of stars running through it.

I felt better. I looked younger, too, ironically,  without the silly brassy puff that sat on my head when I pulled my hair up and back with a clip. Took myself out for a latte to celebrate.

As I stood in the windy parking lot with cup in hand, I had an overwhelming urge to call a close friend. Not unexpected, as are season changes, but still a surprise, was the news that her father had passed the night before. He’d been in his last decline for the past six months. We chatted; I extended condolences while I watched the clouds cross the sky.

The clouds parted last weekend. Hubby came home to tend to business related to retirement. Get signed up for our own health care insurance. Get finances in order. We discussed everything calmly, no real reason to get upset. Made decisions, budgeting, when to sign up for this benefit, that investment, structuring this withdrawal. And then he said it.

“You’re probably going to outlive me by a long time.”

I got a little cold.

He, being a man of science and math, had a point with the calculation of the odds. His mom was in her early 80’s, but spent the last years in poor health. His father was only 40, and his end came from a head injury. His grandma was in her 70’s.

My family, however, was a different story. Both my parents smoked two packs a day. The last thing I saw my mom do the day she died was puff away on a cigarette. My dad smoked until his first heart attack and successfully quit, but did a lot of damage to himself with the diabetes and the drinking. Neither made it to 70. Three out of my four grandparents made it into their eighties and way beyond. Grandpa G. was a noncompliant diabetic and passed in his 50’s. Gram G. was 80-something, and the leukemia couldn’t be helped. Grandpa L. was 96. Pneumonia. He was getting pretty fuzzy at the end. Grandma L. was 98. I really believe that she’d still be here if she hadn’t broken her hip. Until her last week on this side, she was was as sharp as a tack and still slicing and dicing politics with the best of them when she wasn’t watching boxing of professional wrestling. (For the skill and expertise, you know. Yes, Grandma, I really would love to buy the Mackinac Bridge from you.)

My meditation teacher once said that impermanence is a gift. Watching the leaves fall is bittersweet, but the new ones will come in next April. It saddens me that my friend’s father made his passage, but my God, he had cancer and midstage Alzheimer’s. And while this week passes in a blizzard of paperwork and revamping budgets and the chill of remembering that we will not be here forever, we have the relief that Hubby has taken back his soul and made room for his true passion of woodwork.

We have another retirement-related meeting tomorrow. While we don’t know quite what’s in front of us, we can see a little further down the road. It’s still long, but we know and from some orientations can see that there’s an end.

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