We Boomers never age. Now 60 is the new 50, just as 50 was once the new 40, 40 the new 30, and 30 the new 20. But it’s getting harder to convince ourselves.
A week ago I helped a close friend celebrate her 60th birthday. She embraced the other decade milestones. But not this one. She lamented her body breaking down. Nothing major, but we don’t heal as quickly. I could empathize. I’m 61. A month ago a slipped disk started to complain. Within days I couldn’t walk. I still have pain. But her angst was more existential. At 60, there’s no question but that you’re more than half way home. What is yet to be accomplished? She and I can look at our children, all in their twenties, with a sense of pride. We see young adults with strong moral foundations. They ask the right questions. They’ve made mostly good choices. They haven’t found their calling yet, but we feel confident that they will. But we wonder, what has been our calling? “At 60,” she said, “there may be only 20 good years left.”
Or even less. The day after her celebration, my wife’s brother died. Jimmy was 63. It was sudden, though not unexpected. His health was poor, for which he bore a lot of responsibility. The cause of death is unknown a week later. We may never know, but it would surprise no one if the official explanation is that his body just gave out.
Karla and I spent most of the week in Dallas. We cleaned his house and inventoried his possessions. Where were his bank accounts? Where is the title for his truck? Does he have any insurance policies? Where is all his stuff?
He and I didn’t have much in common, except Karla. He has the largest vehicle I have ever seen on two axles. His pick-up truck has huge tires, a jacked-up suspension and a front grill that look as if it were made to substitute for dynamite. In his obituary, his family wrote not that he was the proud brother of two sisters or of two nieces and a nephew. No, he was “a proud NRA member.” There were dozens of guns in his house. Some were in a gun rack but others stashed around the house as if he were expecting a raid by cowboy marauders. We loaded the guns into our little red rental car to move to safety. I feared if I were stopped by the police, I would end up in Gitmo. There would be no explanation for that arsenal other than I was a terrorist.
He left no children behind, but both parents survived him. Their father is 89. Mother is 90. “Parents shouldn’t bury their children,” she kept saying. It wasn’t the only thing she repeated. She’s a physical marvel, but her short term memory is going. While Karla and her dad were off to examine the contents of Jimmy’s shed, my job as to take her with me on my errands and then to her son’s house. She wanted to help out. As we left, she couldn’t find her glasses. We told her she wouldn’t need them. She agreed, but over the next hour, she remarked no fewer than three dozen times, “Where are my glasses? I can’t see anything without my glasses.” She proved it when I assigned her the task of cleaning the refrigerator that had already been emptied of food. She wiped a damp rag over a few spots, but clean it wasn’t.
It’s hard when a young child dies. That short life is potential unfulfilled. But when one dies at 63, surviving parents see the entire arc of that life. I think that must be just as hard. Did his life fulfill its potential?
My wife has cousins throughout Texas. Many of them came to pay their respects. Childhood friends eulogized Jimmy as a happy-go-lucky kid who was respectful of women. I never knew him to be disrespectful of women, but it was nice to hear that that quality struck a chord in a woman who knew him as a boy. Unfortunately, I never knew him as happy-go-lucky. His life was hard, especially in his final years. He served his country but paid a price, suffering post-traumatic stress. In his last years, there was little to be happy about.
Had he taken care of himself, he might have some years left to find happiness. That he didn’t was tragic. Instead his father found him in his bed, cold.
At only 63.
It wasn’t the new 50.