I'm not 40

Why I don’t care that I’m turning 40

I am almost at “that” age.  The big 4-0.

Society tells me I should be freaking out right about now.  A few of the people I know who are turning 40 definitely are.  I have been there, I get it.  The realization that youth is in the rear-view and we are now bona-fide “middle-aged adults” can be scary.  We are at the so-called half way point of life.  And it’s gone by sooooo fast.

But as for me, I’m all in, totally embracing it this time around.  It wasn’t always this way though.

I was absolutely devastated when I was turning 35, I was caught up in the worry of the number, what it meant – if a leg would fall off when I tried to get out of bed or my face would suddenly become filled with wrinkles and sag lines.

While I was caught up in the worry that the world would stop spinning when my 35th birthday came, there was a divine plan at play.  That year would prove to be the most difficult I had ever known, and the one that taught me the most.   I learned to to embrace the time I am blessed with here on this earth, rather than to focus on regret.

The stories I’m going to share are very personal and chronicle everything from tragedy and triumph to love and loss.  I’m not sharing these stories to bring you down, but to lift you up, and encourage everyone to re-focus on what really matters – and it’s not the number of candles on your birthday cake.

The trials begin…

I was 34 when my newborn son was diagnosed with meningitis.  We spent 5 days in the hospital not knowing if he would live or die.  Those were, undoubtedly, the most difficult days of my life.  It was a very dark time, I remember the helplessness I felt, the constant fog of despair.  It was absolutely heart-wrenching.

By the grace of God, Brayden pulled through and is now thriving.  Even though several years have now passed, that remains a defining moment of time in my life.  I have never felt so helpless, never felt that kind of despair.  It forever changed who I am and how I view motherhood.  My baby lived, we were given a second chance.

I still thought about the fact I was turning 35 sometimes, but much less than ever before.  It started to become trivial.

And then….

A few months later, as I was inching ever closer to my 35th birthday, my father went into cardiac arrest.  We literally watched him die.  He collapsed in front of us, and was gasping for air.  His heart had stopped.  We made a desperate call to 911, and the paramedics happened to be around the corner.  I have always believed that to be divine intervention that they were in the neighborhood on a false alarm and were at my father’s side within 3 minutes.

The paramedics were able to revive him, but they also said they didn’t how long he would make it from here, that there were no guarantees he would ever regain consciousness.  I remember driving to the hospital with the realization that my father, as I knew him, was gone.  Just like that.  All the unspoken words, the unlived moments came crashing down on me.  I had so many regrets.

After witnessing my father’s cardiac arrest, my mother was hospitalized the next day.   Her heart was broken, literally.  We would later find out she had “broken heart” syndrome.

The security blanket that I had known for so many years, having two loving parents by my side, was suddenly in jeopardy.  All in the blink of an eye.  The ones who had gotten me through my rough patches had hit a rough patch of their own, and it was our turn to step up.

And that we did.  My husband, brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends – pretty much everyone you can imagine – all came out in full force to get them through, and together we found our way.  I was reminded of the importance and value of family and friends.  Those who are there for you in the darkest of times are the ones to keep by your side, always.

My father had a bypass surgery, from which he bounced back from amazingly.  It was a journey but he pulled through.  After some rest, my Mother bounced back to full form quickly, as she always has.

Around this time, I turned 35, and miraculously, I didn’t lose any limbs.  At that point, I was jumping up and down in joy that I had made it, there were times I wasn’t so sure I would.

What really mattered in life was coming into focus more than ever, and one thing that certainly didn’t matter anymore was that pesky number “35”.

I was settling in, and surely that had to be the end of the tragedies for that year, we had to have met our quota at that point, right?  Not so much…

A short while later, my Grandmother suffered a stroke that left her debilitated, which was another dagger to the heart.  Grams wasn’t your typical Grandmother.  She spoke her mind, she had her fun, and she really didn’t care what anyone had to say about it.  She lived life to the fullest, my kind of lady.

Grams tried her very best to recover after the stroke, but sadly she never returned to full form.  The lady who used to tell us stories and make us all laugh till we cried suddenly wasn’t able to speak anymore.  Now, she struggled to string the right words together to form a sentence.

She began withdrawing and shutting down.  It was her time to go.  She lived to 93.  She watched her children and grand-children grow up.  She had the chance to know all of her great-grandchildren too.   Hers was a life well lived.

I remember sitting with her in her final days.  She had told me months earlier exactly how she wanted her funeral to go, I think she knew what was coming.  As I sat with her, I promised her that her home-going would be exactly how she wanted it.  I told her all the details exactly as I remembered them, she squeezed my hand in reassurance.  It was my last gift to her.

In those final moments, I stroked her hair, and I told her how much I loved her over and over again.  As incredibly difficult as those days were, they brought me peace and comfort.  They still do.  She died with grace and dignity, surrounded by those who love her.  There isn’t a better way to go.  I still miss her terribly, but I know she watches over me, and that brings me peace.  To hold the hand of a loved one while their soul leaves their body is the most prolific reminder of the fragility of life, and the most powerful reminder to cherish what you have while you have it.

After her passing, I remember thinking back on how happy I was that I got to spend 35 years of my life with her.  35 had officially come full circle – what once was a curse was now a blessing.

Through tragedy comes triumph, and I carry these realizations with me always.

  • Age really is nothing but a number, so why waste even one moment of our precious time worrying about it. Live, laugh, love.  Repeat as often as possible.
  • The alternative to getting older is not a good one. Learn from your experiences and constantly reinvent yourself to be the best you can be.  Not everyone has 40 years of experience under their belt.  Use it to your advantage.
  • Be patient with older people. They have the best stories to tell, if you take the time to listen.
  • Life is short and those we love should always be a priority.
  • There are some relationships worth fostering and others that are not. When times are tough, you learn who your true people are.  Be there for them as they were there for you.
  • Things will always happen in life, it’s how we respond to them that defines who we are, and what we learn from them that defines who we will ultimately become.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Save your energy for the things that really matter.
  • Dance like nobody is watching. And make it one hell of a dance.

And when I lose my way, as we all do, I remind myself of that year and the lessons I learned, and eventually find a way to settle back in.

The big 4-0

Whether I’m 35, 40, or blessed enough to live to 90, I’m not taking a single day for granted.  So pass me a martini, go ahead and put all 40 candles on the cake, we can call it a bon-fire.

Bring it on 40, I’m just happy to be here.

My father has cancer, but it doesn’t have him

You know those bad days when you feel down on life and maybe you’re feeling a little bit sorry for yourself? Well this story is for you, and me, and anyone else that needs a reminder that no matter how bad your day is, someone else is probably going through more. And it’s time to pick yourself up and keep on keeping on.

This is a story of survival and triumph with resiliency, strength, and pride. This is my father’s story.

In the past 4 years my father has experienced more trauma than most of us will see in a lifetime. He never complains and rarely speaks of what he has overcome. That is just his way. He is the strong silent type and that means that oftentimes his story is not shared, but it should be, because it’s one we can all learn something from.

A little over 4 years ago, my father collapsed in front of us when he went into cardiac arrest. My son Brayden was just 8 months old at the time. He was sitting on the floor and my father leaned over to play with him. When he attempted to stand up, he lost his footing and fell over. What we didn’t know at that time was at that very moment, his heart had stopped beating.

The paramedics arrived quickly and they were able to restart his heart. I listened as the paramedics told us they weren’t sure if they would be able to keep him going. The doctors explained to us at the hospital that my father had gone into V-fib, a very dangerous heart rhythm, that many don’t come back from. The next 24 hours would be critical to see if he would make it.

He did make it through the night, and then he made it through a triple bypass just a few days later. He fought back and he regained his health. Only 4% of people survive this type of ordeal. It is not surprising that my father was amongst the 4%. A fighter by nature, it took some time, but he found a way through.

His life had returned to a sense of normalcy when he retired last December. But he was about to be rocked again with news that just didn’t seem fair to someone who already had to overcome so much. Just a few weeks after retiring, he went in for routine blood tests and found out that he had leukemia.

We had a trip planned to South Africa before he received the news. He didn’t yet know the type of leukemia he had, which stage he was in, or if it was treatable. But as he has always done, he rallied. He packed up his bags and planned the trip of a lifetime, a bucket list trip as he called it. They started in Johannesburg and the finale was a five star safari in Kruger National Park.

My Dad and Mom in front of FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

My Dad and Mom in front of FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I was also there in South Africa, but I was there for work. My parents stayed at the same hotel where me and my co-workers stayed. We had some really good times out at dinner, talking, and having drinks. Those types of moments leave you feeling so full, not just from too many South African steaks and red wine, but from being in the moment and enjoying every minute of it.

When you don’t know how much time you have left, every moment, no matter how mundane, feels like a blessing. We had many blessings on that trip, an abundance in fact.

Despite not having a definitive diagnosis, and not knowing what tomorrow might bring, my father was the life of the party. You can give this man lemons if you want to, but he will make lemonade. There is no denying his sense of calm when everything is against him, he perseveres.

Upon returning from South Africa, my father was diagnosed with CML (Chronic Myelogemous Leukemia). The good news was that there are medications you can take for this type of cancer. What we didn’t know was how he would react to them, how they would be paid for, or if they would even work. While they work for many, they don’t work for all.

He worked through the insurance quagmire to get the pills paid for as they can by upwards of $20K a month. Once he started taking his pills, he embarked on a different type of journey. These pills save lives and are the only known “cure” for cancer, but are actually small doses of chemotherapy that need to be taken daily. Sometimes your body works with them, sometimes your body works against them. Just like anyone else, there are good days and there are bad days. There are days you need a couple naps, some days you feel great, but it’s sometimes a challenge to get through.

He still continues to fight to see another day.

Many from the outside looking in would think he has lived a charmed life. While he has been blessed in so many ways, it has not always come easy. Just because people make it look easy doesn’t mean it is. It just means they are thankful for the opportunity in front of them each and every day, and they never stop fighting the good fight.

Some of us are born with it, some of us fake it until we can make it. A lot of us probably do a little bit of both. People like my father don’t even think about it, they just do it.

Last week, we joined my father as he walked in the Light the Night walk for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at the Reston Town Center in Reston, VA. Just after dusk, hundreds of us set off with various lighted balloons and glow sticks to honor the cause. Some were there in memorial to their loved ones. Many, like my father, were survivors. The lights lit the water as we passed by the lake. If you stopped to look around, there was nothing but lights in every direction, honoring survival, courage, and hope, remembering those who were lost, and standing in solidarity with those who continue to fight every day.

You play the cards you are dealt in life. And my father, Thom Garrity, has always played a helluva hand. No matter what happens, he keeps playing. In the wise words of one of his favorite singers, Kenny Rogers, ‘they’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealin’s done.’

The dealin may not be done yet, but we know he’s not either. Whatever the deck holds, we know from experience that the odds are in his favor.