I received some unexpected and very sad news a week ago. A high school friend of mine had been on my mind a lot lately, so I sent her a birthday e-mail. I heard back from her husband the next day that she had passed away from sudden health complications back in December.
Peggy and I hadn’t stayed in regular contact with one another – often several months going by as we were both busy with day-to-day life – but when we did connect, it was always as if no time had passed. The re-connecting was instant and deep. I had wondered why there had been no Christmas card this past December with an updated photo of her family. Now I know.
I’ve been through this before. I lost my mom when I was twenty-six and she was forty-nine; I lost my dad this past March. Peggy and I are the same age – fifty-two. Were the same age. Tenses… transitions… But it struck me when I got the news about Peggy that this is going to become the new normal for my friends and myself. We’ll be dealing with the declining health of their parents and more of my contemporaries are going to pass away as we deal with our own health issues. Intellectually, I’ve always known this would happen, but you reach a point where you know it, you know what I mean?
And I know, people older than I am have already been through this and everyone younger will go through it in their time. That’s life and it is circular (thank you Sir Elton John).
I’ve been listening to my older patients tell me for years that this growing older stuff kind of crept up on them, that inside, they still feel young. It’s only their bodies that are old and giving out. They also invariably tell me, “It’s better than the alternative.” I always respected what they were telling me, but I have a new appreciation lately as my own aches and pains seem to be piling up – an old back injury making me stiffer and creakier in the mornings, hands starting to ache from twenty-five years of doing physical therapy, running has now becoming fast walking and weight workouts take a little more grit to force myself through. There are more changes in the mirror, too. Bonnie Raitt nailed it when she sang, “Those lines are pretty hard to take when they’re staring back at you.”
It would be easy to feel only the sadness of Peggy’s passing, but I can’t. She was one of the most loving, life-affirming people I have ever known, even when we were teens together. She never hesitated to tell people she loved them. I know she gave that same happiness to her family and those lucky enough to have been around her in recent years. I know she will continue to be with all of us who loved her.
When we got the news, Beth and I held each other and resolved to not keep putting off the things we want to do together – those things that keep waiting for “someday” when there are fewer bills and it’s easier to take time off work. It’s clichéd, but Peggy, in her life and in her death, reminds me to never take things for granted, to take the time to savor and hold on to all the little things that make up a life, however long that life may be.
Even if Beth and I never travel to Europe or the million other places we’d like to go, I’ll cherish the ordinariness of the life we’ve built because we built it together. It’s the sharing of it that’s important.