The worst thing about growing older is not the loss of physical capabilities, though that is a pain in the ass, and the knees, shoulders, and ankles. Though bothersome, the increasing numbers of food items that cause raging indigestion are not the worst thing about growing older either. Neither is diminishing eyesight, hearing, tolerance for idiocy, and the whole host of other parts and processes that do not work as well as they once did. As Warren Zevon wrote about the experience of aging, “The shit that used to work – it won’t work now.”
My father, who died at the age of 88 from pancreatic cancer said before that diagnosis that “old age ain’t for the faint of heart” (those of you who know my dad know I have cleaned this up quite a bit, and yes, pun intended). No matter which or what vernacular is used, he was not wrong.
No, the worst thing about growing older is not what happens to you. It is what happens to your family and friends. They die and leave you without them. My dad’s first cousin Alan died last week at the age of 90. As I said in my eulogy of my father, dying at that age is not a tragedy, but a great sadness.
The size of my immediate family was average for the time – we numbered six equally split between genders. For whatever variety of reasons, my parents did not engage in a lot of family events, so I thought my extended family was quite small. I subsequently discovered that I have legions of second and third cousins that I do not know. Of those with whom I am acquainted, I have one first cousin. I have four first cousins once removed, and I have five second cousins. There are a few other cousins I may have met, but they and everyone else is a bit of a blur and there is a whole host of them. The unfortunate truth is I was really a teenager before I met most of those I do know and an adult before I really got to know any of them well.
Of the generation above me, there were 3 men I adored. My father, my dad’s younger brother, Art, and my dad’s first cousin, Alan. These were the adult men I knew growing up. Grandparents were wonderful, but they were “old” already. Funny how you think when you are a pre-teen/teenager – I am now probably close to or older than my “old” age grandparents.
The trio knew each other well via family events growing up and my dad and his cousin and, as it turned out, their spouses, went to the same university. My dad worked summers for his uncle, so there was a lot of family togetherness.
These three men had a ball together. I cannot remember any event where there was not raucous laughter, great stories, and plenty of booze. It is where my idea of adult male friendship was made. They had great respect for each other and each other’s spouses and were completely comfortable and at home with each other.
I began my active interactions with dad’s first cousin when I began traveling to business school. Alan and his wife lived about halfway and were always lovely hosts. He was the calmest man I have ever met. A ferocious litigator with a soft voice and command of his subject matter, Alan possessed a quick wit and a great sense of humor. He was a total car guy and loved to scare the bejeezus out of you by taking you out for a spin in his typically over-powered sports car.
Alan was a golf fanatic. I was, at best, a poor golfer. He took me out once on his home course and I hacked my way through the first 5 or 6 holes. He was not having his best day either. On a later hole, I finally hit a drive straight and left myself about 170 yards from the hole. I whacked a 4-iron exactly as you are supposed to and looked up to watch my shot bounce on to the green and roll towards the pin. I said out loud, “not bad.” Alan responded with, “not bad? That’s the best shot you will ever hit in your entire life!” As it turns out, he was entirely correct.
And now, I am at or above the age they were when my memories were made. Except for my uncle Art, I am now part of the oldest generation. I miss my father almost every day. I am going to miss Alan a lot. Mostly, I am going to miss seeing them all together, laughing and reminiscing, entertaining themselves and the family. Demonstrating that family can be great friends. Of the generation above me of male members of the core family that I respect and adore, those reliable sources of family lore and personal support, I now only have my Uncle Art.
Why did it take me so long to genuinely appreciate the trio? Why didn’t I spend more time with them as a group and individually in the cases of Art and Alan? I do not know. Wisdom does truly come with age. What I do know is that I cherish the last 20 years in which I certainly did take the opportunity to appreciate these three men.
Alan, Z”L. May your memory be a blessing.