When I was young and foolish, or very smart depending on your perspective, I married a man who is five and a half years older than me. When my husband was my age (and never trust a woman who will tell you her age, but between you and me I am 58), he started to say something quite often whenever he would get annoyed. He would say, “I’m too old for this!” This would irritate me no end because I thought that I would never be too old for ANYTHING, and if I was I would never admit it so freely. I would reply, “If I ever start saying that, just take me out behind the barn and shoot me!” Now that I am exactly the age that he was when he started to say it, I find myself saying it too. Luckily for me, he hasn’t gunned me down yet! Our tolerance for little annoyances seems to lessen as we age. In other words, we become a lot more like our least favorite parent.
There is another curious phenomenon I have noticed. I had to put one of my all-time favorite dogs to sleep in July. He was old, for a deerhound male and he had lived a wonderful life as the “patriarch”, the alpha dog and the undisputed best puppy raiser ever in our household. As it turned out, we had to do the deed on our thirty second wedding anniversary, July 13. This year, fittingly, that day was a Friday and I didn’t much feel like celebrating after that. I am always sad when we have to put a dog or a horse down—it’s natural to feel that way. But I am finding that the older I get, the harder I am taking each loss. I’ve thought about it and I think the reason why is that I am staring my own mortality in the face when I watch another beloved pet die. When you’re a kid, you just don’t see how these things could be applicable to you. When you’re older, you think you should get used to it, but the funny thing is, you just never do.
When I started in radiation oncology, most of my patients were older than me, in fact, a lot older. Now each day I realize that many of them are younger than I am and that is a sobering thought. In college, one of my favorite quotes was from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” –“But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” I know what it means now. It’s why I stay up late; it’s why I am writing. The company No Fear updated Marvell’s sentiment on a T shirt that I wore until it wore out after too many washings. On the front it said, “It’s not the pace of life that concerns me. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”
Nothing like taking care of cancer patients to give you a little perspective.