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.
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.