Is This The Last One?

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I was always waiting for something to happen; for school to “get out,” for Santa to come, for my birthday, for Halloween. There was always something to look forward to, and, always something to dread; the start of school after summer, dentist appointments, homework.

Time lapsed in spurts. Each event had a beginning and an end. The middle could be completely inconsequential... the concepts of mindfulness or being present not even blips on my youthful radar.

Adults would say “time flies when you get older,” but this statement reeked of naivety. I knew that time was immutable, and that there would always be exactly the same number of tick-tocks in every single day.  

Turns out, the adults had a line on something I wouldn’t understand until I reached 40; the hands of a clock do speed up with age, and there’s no slowing them down. Time is speeding like a bullet train hurdling down the track... and I’m sitting right on top of it.

Thankfully, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Although I still get excited over beginnings and endings, I’ve come to realize, and relish, the fact that most events have a middle too, and that being mindful and present for those middles can make them the best part of any event. It’s the middles that are meaningful, and the older I get, the more meaningful matters.

Recently, my husband queried, “Do you realize that if we die at 80, we’ve only got 20 more summers left?” (summer being his favorite...). This esoteric question brought to light the stark realization that our time here on earth is actually finite. I suddenly realized that I can almost count my remaining years on my fingers and toes. It being the holiday season and all, I ruminated on the notion that I may only have 20 Thanksgivings and Christmases left.

Counting the number of anythings we have left in life became a game of sorts for my husband. Finding it incredibly depressing each time he offered a count, I asked that his past time of counting remaining life events, be suspended. No more counting. Period.

The counting exercise did get me thinking, however, about whether or not my 91 year old mother counts anythings? Actuarial tables place her six feet under, but good genes and healthy living make Mom a walking, talking anomaly. There’s every reason to believe she could have ten more years of exciting life-events and holiday seasons to endure... and count.  

This week is Thanksgiving. Let the games begin, as they have for the last seven years, right around my dining room table. Mom doesn’t compete in the conversation contest these days, but she does like to share her story about dropping the cooked turkey on the floor one year. She took it out of the oven for a little basting, and then – oops! Ever the practical cook, she re-panned her bird, scraped all the juices off the floor with a spatula (she’d need it later for gravy...), and put it right back in the oven. It’s a funny family fable 45 years later, but it’s probably best that no one knew about it at the time. (I’m sure it was delicious).

That famous holiday story took place 45 years ago, which means Mom had at least 45 more Thanksgivings ahead of her back then. This year will be T-day #46, and thankfully, I’m pretty sure she’s going to make it. In fact, I think Mom may have five or six more opportunities to share her story. And five or six more opportunities to fill her “hollow leg” with turkey and trimmings.

But what if she doesn’t? What if this is her last Thanksgiving... ever? What does that feel like for her? And Christmas is just around the corner... Will Mom be ho-ho-hoing with the rest of us? Or will she actually be walking with the angels? And does she think about that?

Who better to answer these questions of life (and death), than Mom herself?  After: 1) a trip to the hair dresser for a cut and perm (the first in a year), 2) a stop at the hardware store for a Bissell carpet sweeper (special ordered), 3) a scenic drive around the town, and finally, 4) a quick fish sandwich at the Driftwood, I asked Mom if she ever thinks about how her holidays are numbered... about how this might be her last Thanksgiving.

I did not receive the deep, philosophical response I had anticipated. Instead - Mom tartar-sauced her bun, reassembled her sandwich, poured her diet coke, shrugged her shoulders, and replied, “Nope, not really.”

It looks like I may be the only one losing sleep over Mom’s (and my) dwindling time on this earth.    

 

Emily Gaffney