I once mentioned in a reply to someone’s posted comment that cheery though this blog usually appears to be in its attention to “the good things in life,” a dark undercurrent runs below each piece — silently for the most part, but occasionally surfacing.

Thoughts of death and dying.

It’s all very well to try practicing living “in the now” when you’re getting old. I may even be luckier than most in that I have a constitutional inability to multi-task or multi-think.  A former boss charged with giving me the dreaded annual review at the Big Law Firm where in days gone by I used to labor remarked of my work that every single piece of it was excellent, but I seemed unable to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. (A grave flaw in legal practice, where adroitly juggling open cases is a must.)  She used the analogy of beads on a string; I focused only on the bead in front of me and was oblivious to the beads lined up behind it.

However, life makes such oblivion to what’s coming down the pike harder to maintain with any consistency as one ages. The earliest big loss for most of us is the death of our parents. Clementine Churchill said (or wrote) it first:  It’s very hard to realize one is nobody’s child.  When that happens, the loss is not the only pain.  There’s also the frightening recognition no one is still ahead of us.  We’re next.

Then it begins to happen.  Holes appear in our sense of the world.  I still can’t contemplate one of those iPhone-illustrated trips to New York that you periodically read about here without first thinking I must let Cathy know I’m coming.  Maybe we can get together to do something beforehand.  But I can’t let Cathy know. Although she lived in New York all her life (even went to Barnard College), and we never lost touch since meeting in 1960, she doesn’t live there anymore. She doesn’t live anywhere. Cancer took her away two years ago, after a rotten four years of surgery, sickness and pain, despite her being six years younger than I am.  I still have a red linen summer dress in my closet bought on one of our joint shopping expeditions in New York because she urged me to get it. Every time I see the dress on its hanger, I think of her.  And I can’t get rid of the dress, because the dress is the last I have of her.

Another hole in my universe — an even bigger one — also opened the year Cathy died, although I didn’t learn of it until last year.  That one I did write about (in “Why There’s No Post Today,”) because I couldn’t not.  Sometimes I still wonder how he’s doing and what he’s doing — until I remember he’s not doing anything anymore because he’s just ashes scattered somewhere. (And I don’t even know where.)

No one within twenty years of my age whom I’ve met since moving to Princeton is untouched.  One lost a husband (also a lawyer), just turned seventy, to pancreatic cancer.  Another is married to a brilliant man in his seventies severely debilitated by Parkinson’s.  A woman two years older than I (an architectural historian) is legally blind and rapidly losing what vision is left to macular degeneration that no longer responds to treatment; it’s harder and harder for her to read anything, even on Kindle at its most enlarged. A year ago she had a stroke and a heart attack. She survived both, underwent cardiac surgery and prolonged physical therapy, and can now very slowly maneuver her way around the facility to which she and her husband (with pulmonary problems) have moved, but needs an aide or a friend to accompany her.  Since she can still make out enough of movies to enjoy them, I have occasionally been picking her up and taking her out to lunch, then to a movie of her choice, and then back to the facility where she now lives. However, except for her two adult sons (one of whom drives from Boston and back to see her and the other from New York), I don’t think any of her former acquaintances come.  People are embarrassed or scared when the Grim Reaper seems to be hovering near.

Yesterday, Bill ( aged 87 1/2) called his closest friend, who still lives in Cambridge (Massachusetts), to say hello.  Being men, they don’t touch base as often as women might do, but the feeling runs deep. They’ve known each other a long time. The friend — also a retired psychiatrist — will soon be 91.  He is long divorced but has a daughter and two grandchildren a couple of towns away.  A year ago he sounded hale and relatively hearty, although I believe he could no longer drive. In February, when they last spoke, he had had a heart attack, described as “relatively minor.”  However, since then he has become extremely weak.  Two weeks ago he fell and broke an elbow.  He can no longer walk at all.  He uses a commode. He has round-the-clock care, from aides he describes as just so-so. He sounds (Bill says) very frail.  He is waiting to die.  I thought of perhaps trying to drive up there this summer (Bill and I spelling each other at the wheel) so that they could see each other one more time, but his daughter says he’s in hospice care and might not live that long. She hopes the end comes swiftly to save him more pain and unhappiness.  Understandably, Bill is unhappy, too.  He says it’s not only about his friend.  It’s about himself as well.  I never really knew Bill’s friend, except to say hello to, but what makes Bill unhappy comes round full circle to me, as I still share a bed with him, thank God.

We will both get past it.  For now.  But in the interests of fuller disclosure — although, chatty though I may seem, there are still many things I do not “share” — I thought those of you who aren’t really here yet (whatever you may think of those first few wrinkles and sags you spy in the mirror) should probably know that “getting old” isn’t always the picnic reflected in this blog — despite the nature photos, trips to New York, flattering selfies and two cute kitties.

However, there are still distractions. For instance: the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning are tied 2-2 in Round Three of the NHL Eastern Conference, and Game 5’s tonight.  My gut feeling is that the Rangers will win, but I welcome surprises.  Didn’t guess I knew anything about pro hockey, did you?  Well, I don’t really.  But I am interested in the outcome because I’m connected by blood to the guy who screams “S-c-o-r-e!” for Tampa.  So I’m hoping he gets to scream “S-c-o-r-e!” often tonight.

See?  I’m cheering up just thinking that might happen!




  1. kathybjones

    Powerful entry on your blog today. Been thinking a lot more about this since I spent last week with my sister, whose husband passed while I was visiting. He, losing a brief but valiant fight against brain cancer at the ripe old age of 69. She, devastated by the hole it left in her heart after 42 years of marriage. And both of them just retired and entering this new phase for all too brief a time. Bu then, never a good time really. It’s just the time it turns out to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Kathy, I’m so sorry. (Whatever “sorry” does. Not much, I’m afraid.) And no, it’s never a good time. But for those of us for whom “time”‘s biological limits are shrinking every year, the thought — when we let ourselves think of it — is frightening.


  2. I do know what you mean, I said in one of my blogs that I feel I’m on an escalator , my mother has just gone and I’m next approaching the top. It’s surprising how many actors/actresses I have grown up watching on television or films , have died. Still, we just have to live whatever life we have to the best of our ability and you do that well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nina, this is one reason I enjoy your writing so much. Life truly is 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. They can easily swap places in the course of one sentence. We have to remember that neither are permanent and that it helps to share them.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Having 2 brothers in their 80s, I often think of this stuff. I miss the protection of parents and friends long gone. Now it’s just to focus on enjoying life (no matter what the limitations because it won’t get any better) until it’s your turn to meet the reaper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, Kate, it will never get better than now. And, believe it or not, you’re one of my (virtual) role models in enjoying the day to day as it comes and — alas! — goes. (By the way, Tampa did win last night, despite my gut feelings. 3-2 now. There are small but good surprises everywhere along the way.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It makes one think that one has so much more of the past than future. It would be nice if past could have been more generous in bestowing happy happy, but if even that gets denied, the remnants of life really needs a good partner to keep going, plodding on.
    We lost two of our three adult children over the last three years. This time last year we were packing to go and join our son in Koh Samui. A phone call from Thailand and Aust. Embassy, ‘your son has passed away’. We went for the cremation of our lovely son instead of a holiday. A tragic accident of circumstance.
    And yet, we both can still laugh and have our grandsons and remaining daughter, look at growing gardens, enjoy the morning coffee and write some words. It is the best of what is still available.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah Gerard, how can I reply to this? To lose a grown child is the very worst sorrow I can think of in all the world. And you have lost two. You and your wife must be brave indeed to soldier on in pain as you do. Writing does help, for those of us who can write. I’m glad you still have each other, and your grandsons and daughter. That counts for a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So many thoughts. The women in my family, with very few exceptions, have died young; 50’s and early 60’s. In 2012, I lost my sister, 48, to MS. A few months later, they found a suspicious mass and suspected breast cancer. I was sure this was to be my ending. I was just months past my 60th birthday. When I survived, I felt as though I had been given a new life, or at least, a reprieve. Now, every year that goes by, I am ever vigilant, but I have a new appreciation for life and health, family and friends. That’s the only way I can live, for as long as it lasts.

    Thanks for such a sensitive post, Nina. Van

    Liked by 1 person

    • Survivals such as yours are indeed transformative, Van. After surgery and chemo, my second husband survived bladder cancer on a kidney in his sixties. That was twenty years ago. Although we were no longer together when he fell sick, I have noticed in him, from afar, the new appreciation for life and health, his children (my sons) and whatever friends and relations he still has that you speak of. I have mixed feelings when I post from the dark side of getting old: it’s undeniably part of the truth, but it also reminds the blog’s readers of thoughts they would perhaps have preferred to leave buried for as long as they can. Thank you so much for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Although my Florida son is an email reader of the blog, I have a feeling the more recent posts, including this one, are piling up in his Inbox until the playoffs are over. But thank you for *your* appreciation, Isabelle — especially as I know where it’s coming from.


    • What a lovely comment, Julie! At 55, when it’s still relatively easy to feel one will go on forever (despite what one “knows”), it must be scary to read what it’s like further along the road. I don’t often feel like posting about what I called in another reply “the dark side of getting old,” because what’s the point of dwelling on it? But once in a while, it does surface. Anyway, now that it’s done that, perhaps it will go away for a while. Thank you so much for your appreciation.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so poignant. The D-word hangs over anyone over 70. But not only them. A dear friend has a 39-year-old daughter with metastatic lung cancer (even though she never smoked), who has two toddler daughters, one of whom has a rare and awful genetic disease called Angelman’s Syndrome, which combines aspects of autism, retardation and cerebral palsy.

    Always important to wear seatbelts, and not just in the front of a car. Look what happened to John and Alicia Nash on their way back to Princeton! Take care! Martha


    • It’s true that, as Van notes above, none of us gets out of here alive. And indeed some are truly unlucky in that by accident or genetic misfortune the end comes sooner rather than later. But as the decades lived grow more numerous, the likelihood of more time left to live diminishes. I don’t sit in the rear seat of cars very often, but when I do, I will certainly buckle up — as the Nashes did not. When the cards are stacked against you, there’s no point in negligently increasing the risk of running out of cards.


  8. I understand, and it is right that you should remind us. I’m not singing and dancing every hour of the day either. Having held hands to the end with my parents’ generation and being within a year of my mother’s age at her sudden death, I am ready for whatever lies in store. We are in that lucky calm, in which we still have satisfactory health and most of our marbles, but know that these can only diminish to the end. I had a moment of insight after my 60th birthday. My daughters created such a wonderful event, entirely to please me, and I am so totally happy with what they do with their lives that I thought… I don’t mind if I go now. Nearly ten years on, I still feel the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You do indeed sound to be in a lucky calm, Hilary — in your age, state of health, and happiness with your daughters’ lives — and I’m glad for you. But rather than “going” now, I hope you keep going for many many years to come.

      Liked by 1 person

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