Last year was the milestone year. The big 50. I felt OK about it. 50 is the new 40, my older friends told me. I celebrated with a big party. My brother came from Canada, my cousin from New York. My sisters-in-law traveled great distances, too. Then everyone went home and life resumed, no different, really, than before.
Today is different.
Not that suddenly, I feel old. Or that there is no hoopla this year.
Today is different for one very important reason.
My mother suffered a massive stroke in 1982. On my birthday. She was 51.
That day changed our lives in so many ways. You can imagine all the obvious ways: my mother was in a coma for days in the Intensive Care Unit at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and when she regained her senses, the left side of her body no longer worked. There were months and months of physical therapy for my mother. And even more months of adjustment for me and my family while we learned how to take care of an invalid, infirm woman.
She’d also lost a lot of her cognitive abilities and the mother I adored was suddenly gone. She was there in person, physically. But the woman I knew died on that day.
Over the next 19 years that she lived, I learned to relate to my mother on a whole new level. In the end, when my father also cruelly lost his cognitive abilities to Alzheimer’s, my mother became like my daughter. She’d ask me what she should wear, what she could eat. If anyone asked her a difficult question, she’d consult me before answering publicly. We exchanged roles.
My mother died in May 2001. I had to deal with her dying all over again. Except this time, there was nothing left of her at all. She was gone.
I’ve always feared turning 51. I feared it even more after I learned I was prone to hypertension — my mother’s blood pressure had soared to obscene levels before the stroke.
So on this day, I contemplate my mortality. And want desperately to make time stop so that I can have the opportunities to accomplish all that is left on my long, long list of things to do, places to see. It’s not that I want to be young again — I greatly value the wisdom time and experience have given me. Just that I feel the days whizzing past like speeding bullets.
Like everyone else, I want to feel that I did something good for this world. Now there are fewer days left for me to achieve that.