You’ve been on my mind in a unique way. December 7 marks the day that I equal your age on the day that you died—the same number of months and days you lived into age sixty-two.
I was twenty-eight when you left this earthly pilgrimage. That was old enough to be past the years when young people easily evaluate the next generation as “you’re so old!” yet still not able to recognize that one’s early sixties shouldn’t be considered old at all.
I know that, now that I’ve reached it.
Of course, the paths of our lives determines how old we feel, and your path and mine couldn’t be more different. You suffered enough health struggles for the entire family. Your poor body was surely worn down, not to mention your spirit, when you received the news that you had cancer in your back and had to begin chemotherapy. While, only days later, your sudden death came as a shock, none of us were surprised to hear your doctor say, “She died of heart failure. The news of this cancer had hit her so hard. I think she had enough and finally gave up.”
The doctor’s suggestion caused none of us to argue that she didn’t know you, that you were a fighter, that you would never give up on life. Never give up on us.
Indeed, all you did, throughout your sixty-two years, was fight for life and fight for us. You soldiered on after being widowed from your first husband after only one year of marriage. You soldiered on through four miscarriages interspersed with the six babies you delivered. You soldiered on when Jim was wrongly medicated, leaving his brain so severely damaged that you and Dad had to sign him over to the state because you could not care for him and all of us, both physically and financially. And you soldiered on through the many assaults on your health.
Thus, when you were sixty-two and received not your first, not your second, but your third diagnosis of cancer, your three score and two years of life had been as full of trials as a person who lives to be ninety.
While I’ve had enough of my own troubles, I’ve arrived at this age-matching day in way better shape. My health has more closely matched Dad’s, who was active and quite healthy to age eighty-three, when a broken hip quickly took him down. Indeed, as Dad never stopped gardening, I am still at it and intend to follow his path.
Sure, bending and crouching made it more of a chore for Dad in his later years and he moved more slowly, but he kept at it. “Just peckin’ away,” we kids loved to say in our respect-filled way of mocking how he kept at everything he did—words that echo in my head when I am in my garden and ready to cash it in for the day, but I am moved to say to myself, “You can weed one more row. Then one more row. Keep peckin’ away.”
One thing I acquired from both you and Dad was flat feet. Do you recall how I had to quit football in high school, because the high arches in the cleats caused me so much pain I almost couldn’t walk after practice? Well, my feet have never gotten as bad as yours to have to wear orthopedic shoes. (How you hated those ugly shoes!) Thankfully, my flat feet could handle what we always called tennis shoes. Before you died, I had been jogging six years. Not only did I stick with it, I am days away from completing my fortieth year of running. And, I’m delighted to report that I’ve run more miles this year than ever—more than 1,100.
But, oh! I can’t deny that I’m sixty-two. For as fluidly I run my five- and six-mile routes, afterwards I find myself making noises when I get out of my chair, and it takes a few steps before I find my stride.
I recall your arthritis, your many aches and pains. I get it now. Age isn’t just a number. No matter how hard a person works to stay healthy, the body gradually wears down, wears out.
Since I can still do everything I want to do, I am grateful for how healthy I am at age sixty-two. I can’t imagine experiencing what happened to you. I can’t imagine being removed from my family so quickly. So prematurely.
We sure missed you. Truth be told, I still miss you. I am thankful for all the years I had with Dad and sad for all I didn’t get to share with you, even all of the crazy-tough stuff I endured this decade. Yet, because you are with the Lord, I’ve never wished you back to this earth. And though I’m in no hurry to leave this life, I also long to be with the Lord.
The too few years we had you were a gift. As on December 8 I will exceed the number of days we had you, I cherish the many gifts which comprise my life.
You taught me how to live well, to be a good person. Everything you gave me, taught me, instilled in me, continues to shape me. To live in me. Therefore, you continue to live in me.
You made the most of your sixty-two years. You made them a gift to us all.
I intend to make the most of the time I have left.
Till I see you in heaven,