Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Old is Young?

Caution: The following post contains offensive (to other people, not me) profanity. You've been warned!

When we were in Ohio last summer, my Mom was telling me about someone she knew who had died recently.

"He was so young," she said.

"Really?" I asked. "How old was he?"


I was a little taken aback. Is 77 considered young these days? My Mom turns 70 this year (sorry to out you, Mom), so maybe when you're 70, 77 seems young. Fifty is looking pretty young to me right now, so I probably just answered my own question right there.

All of my grandparents have lived into their 80s and 90s. In fact, my Grandpa is still vibrantly alive and kicking and running the family farm at 96. So I guess compared to that, 77 is young.

But let's face it, the average life expectancy for a United States citizen is 78.2--for men it's 75.6 and women it's 80.5. And I figure if I make it anywhere into my later years, that's pretty darn fortunate.

So the other day, I was at my sister's and we had a similar conversation. A neighbor's mother died last week. She was young. How young? 77. A weird coincidence, I know.

I kind of rolled my eyes and began my diatribe again. Seventy-seven isn't young. That 77-year-old person got to graduate high school, go to college, get a job, have kids, see their kids grow up and have kids, enjoy their grandkids for awhile, see the world if it was financially feasible, etc. 77 isn't young. 77 is lucky. Yes, in my family, dying at 77 would be young (with one notable exception), but I don't count on having that kind of luck for one second.

Tara told me I was heartless because I wasn't overly sympathic.

Am I?

She also said that it's relative. Seriously? Seventy-seven seems old to me regardless of how old my Grandpa is or how young Finn was when he got cancer. Nearly eight decades to live life. I'm guessing a lot of people would kill for the opportunity to merely make it to that age.

Yes, it's sad that this 77-year-old grandmother died. It's sad when anyone dies. I'll be crazy sad when my Grandpa dies. If I'm around to see it, but I'm starting to wonder if he'll outlive me. But my point here is that while it's sad, it hardly seems unexpected at this point. Basically, to me, anything past the average life expectancy is gravy. You could, in theory, argue that according to statistics, this grandma had 3 1/2 more years before her time ran out, but I don't want to fight with myself.

So one of the things Tara asked me was, "Are YOU going to be ready to die in 35 years?" Frankly, if the next 35 years contain trauma like the last 6 years have had, I just might be. I don't mean to be flip, it's just how I feel. My Grandma Moffitt wasn't afraid to grow old and die and I try to hang onto that sense of peace she always had. She had lived a lot, loved a lot and maybe you just get tired at the end and you're at peace with going. What happens if you're not tired at the end? If you're just in the "prime" of your life at 77? Well, it's not like we get to choose. When your number's up, it's up, right?

Then Tara asked me if I was ready to have our parents die. Of course not! I don't think you're ever "ready" for that (and besides, what if I'd answered, yes? I'd be written out of the will like that! So if I am ready, I'm keeping mum!). It will never be enough time no matter when they/I go. There will always be one more conversation I would have wished I'd had. One more thing I'd wished I'd done with or for them. The time will never be right. But it's going to happen whether I want it to or not.

Has Finn's cancer jaded me? I don't know. Probably. Maybe. Heck, I don't know how I would answer "is 77 young" if we hadn't seen so many kids suffer. Because in the fucked up world of pediatric cancer, 77 is old. Crazy old. There are no high school graduations when you die at 7. Or 5. Or 2. Or 13. No college, no travel, no job, no wedding, no kids, no grandkids. Zip. That is dying before you even get to experience the "prime." And that, my friends, is shitty.

I would really wonder about someone who was 77, knew they were dying, and said, "But I'm too young to die." But a 7-year-old? Has every right in the world to say it.

And so I have asked myself, what is the cut off age? What is that magic number where you can say you've lived long enough for it to not be unfair or "too young" when you die? Is it when your kids are all over 18? Although, if that were the case, everyone would emulate Charlie Chaplin and wait to have kids until they were 75. And men would outlive women for a change.

As usual, I don't have the answer. I hate it when that happens. What I do know: Growing old isn't a right. Unfortunately. Get off your ass and live right now.

So what do you think? Am I heartless? I'm so curious if I'm a total whack-a-doo and don't know it. Although I have long suspected. . .


1dreamr said...

Excellent post, as always. You are most certainly not a whack-a-doo, nor are you heartless. You bring a very interesting perspective and one we should all keep in mind. Let's face it, tomorrow isn't promised to anyone. Every single day is a gift.

Elizabeth said...

Makes perfect sense to me. It's also why I take my parents on vacation with me. Both of my parents are cancer survivors.

sheila said...

It seems like once you hit your 70s, that shouldn't be too young to die. Anything before that seems young, especially up to about 50 (I can't believe I just said that, since I'm 47 1/2). I was just talking to my mom about that same thing tonight. I think it has a lot to do with how you live your life and your attitude. My stepdad and father-in-law are both 79 and there is a HUGE difference. My folks went to Hawaii a couple years ago, about 4 years after he had a cancerous tumor removed from around his spine. They climbed the trail to the top of some volcano and Jack got some impressed looks from others because he had his cane, but he never used it! My in-laws don't do anything, and my MIL never leaves her chair in front of the tv. She won't even cook her own food. It has made me decide I'd better get off my ass and get busy, because I'd much rather be like my folks than inlaws. My husband's grandma died this past summer at 105. She was playing catch with the greats until she was in her late 80s and drove her car until about 95, that's when they kept moving the light poles in the grocery store parking lot!

Kristie said...

An online acquaintance wrote me a while back, very upset that her 80-something year old grandfather wasn't responding well to some kind of treatment (kidney, heart disease ... not sure ...) My friend was begging everyone to pray for his recovery. I'm sure I sounded heartless as well, but I said to Blaine, "We're all going to die at some point ... doesn't it seem a little desperate to think an 80-something year old person should bounce back, good as new?" I don't know .... I think your sister is right and its relative. But personally, I'd rather die after 77 rich, fulfilling years, than live to be 100 and never do or see anything.

Leeann said...

I agree with you that 77 is a full life. Of course, more years would be great but IMO that is pretty darn good. Of course, now that my Dad is 74, writing these words brings a great deal of sadness to me. We spent Christmas with him here visiting and I was sure to take not only pictures but video tape. I wanted to make sure I have a record of his voice, so I can listen to it whenever I want. :*-(

Anonymous said...

Interesting! Of course it all depends on the quality of life - I'm not sure in this economy if anyone can afford to live much past 77 (insert smiley face here) mh

Jordyn said...

My life experience...

My brother died at 22 y/o (cancer)

My second brother died at 23 y/o (14 months after first brother and also due to cancer)

BIL at 20 due to drunk driver

Good friend's baby 11days old due to being premature

3 weeks after that funeral another friend lost her baby at 20 months due to a very rare genetic disorder.

77 years old may be young but it is long enough to be celebrated as well as mourned.

Anonymous said...

Funny I was just thinking about that today after a converstion with my neighbour about her ailing parents. I personally want to live ony as long as I can be independant. I don't want to be some dottering old lady in a nursing home that has to have the drool cleaned off my face or my backside cleaned for me.

I think young when refering to the dying should only apply to those who are less than 60 - after that you are not so young. Maybe I will change my mind when I hit 60 but it seems to me by then I will have had a good chance at life and will have lived to see my children grown (I hope).

Mom2Toribug said...

I am ready to go when the good Lord gets ready for me, but I don't want to go today. I am 35. 77does seem like a really long good life. I think no matter what age you are, live life to the fullest. At the end of my life I want to be able to say I enjoyed every minute of it. No regrets!! Today is a gift.

Michele said...

Lisa G shared your blog with me...your post is pitch perfect and I agree with your wise words. Each day is precious and while perhaps it's all relative, 77 seems like a blessing.