Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Final Approach

By Cheryl Oreglia

I've been learning about growing old for so long I failed to realize I'm approaching the runway myself. 

When I was young I didn't give aging a thought until my grandfather had a stroke. I spent a lot of time with him in recovery, after his brain had changed, and he no longer had access to his short term memory. This only left the present available to him but I noticed how a lifetime of experience filtered into his wisdom. I believe this is what we revere most about the elderly. I remember asking for advice one morning about my future. He was quiet, I waited, and finally he said, "Do what makes you happy. That's all that matters." It would be our last conversation. 
"Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human, Leia has changed." Carrie Fisher
I remember the first time I watched a grown man cry. He was mourning the loss of his only brother. A death that happened nearly twenty years ago. He came home from high school to a distraught mother, and the only thing she told him was his brother had died, much later he would learn it was suicide. He never got to say good-bye. Out of shame his parents did not hold a memorial and they rarely spoke of him, "it was as if he never existed." I believe "he thought he could not go any closer to grief without dying, [then] he went closer, and did not die," Mary Oliver (adapted). I learned that grief must be given its time, as a way of honoring life, or we are left clinging to it's fleeting presence. 
"Grief doesn't have a plot. It isn't smooth. There is no beginning and middle and end." Ann Hood
The most important lessons I learned from my dad had to do with fishing. He was formed from a generation of hard workers, which gave his life purpose, but at his core he was a fisherman. Fishing requires patience, persistence, intuition, and knowing your limits. This tells you a lot about my Dad. (I think he was an extraordinary catch.) When his health began to fail my sister Nancy and I spent as much time as possible in the Northwest. I remember the day he told the doctors he was done, "I want to go home, I can't take any more treatments, I'm tired." Oh how we wanted him to press forward, to never give up, to live in the worst kind of agony because we were not ready to let him go. But he was a fisherman, he lived on his own terms, and he knew his limits. I learned about courage from my Dad, the importance of catch and release, and now his 'sole' lives on in me. 
"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." Betty Friedan
In a recent dream I stood mesmerized by a younger version of my Mom, sitting cross-legged on the floor, laughing with a child. When I woke up there was moisture in my eyes. I was crying in my sleep. I miss her youthful vibrancy as much as I miss my own. She is in a challenging bout with cancer and has decided to stay in the fight even though the risk of permanent injury is likely. She has not become a shell of her former self, she has become a new creation, and I now realize this stage of life is as important as the rest. She is a fighter and from her I've learned "impossible is nothing." I believe her final achievement will be defending her journey's end.  
“We’re not the Faster-than-the-Speed-of-Light Generation anymore. We’re not even the Next-New-Thing Generation. We’re the Soon-to-Be-Obsolete Kids, and we’ve crowded in here to hide from the future and the past. We know what’s up – the future looms straight ahead like a black wrought-iron gate and the past is charging after us like a badass Doberman, only this one doesn’t have any letup in him.” Tim Tharp
My priorities have drastically changed at this elevation, I might be in a slow descent, but I have a ways to go before the lights of the runway guide me home. The things I thought were so important in my youth are of no interest to me today. The paint on my core is fading, but the structure is sound, and still a worthy of flight. I think less about what you think of me and more about what I think of myself. Soaring above the clouds, searching for something new each day is now my goal, and I can still manage a loop-de-loop when need be. 
"There are 30,000 days in your life. When I was 24, I realized I'm almost 9,000 days down. There are no warm-ups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Your biggest risk isn't failing, it's getting too comfortable. Every day, we're writing a few more words of a story. I wanted my story to be an adventure and that's made all the difference." Drew Houston

I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime. 


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

This is so poignant. I never thought so heavily about dying until my grandfather died a few years ago. And now, I think about it a lot. My husband thinks I'm obsessed with him dying. It's just something I worry about a lot. Glad, I'm not alone.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

I appreciate your comment Kimberly, death is a passage we all have to travel, but no one talks about it. Knowing my time is limited makes me more appreciative of the time I have left. Life is precious.

Carrie Beckort said...

Lovely post, Cheryl. I've lost more loved ones in my nearly 43 years than I'd like to own to. My father-in-law passing away was one of the drivers behind the theme of my first book - grief. It was a way for me to work though my feelings. I've been thinking more and more lately not about death directly, but how quickly everything could change and I don't feel so invincible anymore. In contrast, I feel the stronger - physically and emotionally - than I ever have before.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

I didn't realize your first book was about grief? Is it Kingston's Promise? That will be my next read! I appreciate your comments Carrie, I too do not feel so invincible these days but I'm more trusting of the process. I suppose we have some influence over our final journey by the many choices we make in life. The only way I know how to unravel these concepts by writing, wish I could write my own end!

Carrie Beckort said...

Kingston's Project is the first one. Kingston's Promise is the sequel (but both are stand alone novels), and deals more with how to live a life after learning a devastating family secret that impacts your life. Writing our own ending - that would be something!

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