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May 6, 2013
01:00 PMHealth Kick
Turning Forty—It's a Little Thing
Earlier this year I hit a milestone: I turned 40 on January 12. I had been anxious for weeks, perhaps months. I hadn't accomplished all the things I thought I would accomplish by 40. My house was too small and shabby. My resume too brief and thin. My book yet unwritten. I'd never been to Paris or Rome.
A slightly older friend told me that the lead-up to 40 was worse than actually crossing over. Even in my angst, I could appreciate that. The dread of a dental procedure was usually more excruciating and certainly lasted longer than the procedure itself. And once it was over, I could start on the road to recovery, which would bring incremental improvement. Turning 40 would be the hard part. Being 40 wouldn't be so bad.
I wasn't certain when she told me, but now I believe Kathy was right. I'm 40. Not almost 40. Not late 30s. There is some good news in it, too. I'm at the low end of my age bracket for races. Maybe I'll win my division sometime this year? It's something to hope for.
But for me there's something at play that's bigger than acceptance. It's perspective. Nine days after I turned 40, my dad died. He was elderly. I was the youngest child of a third marriage for him, so I knew this day was coming. I foolishly thought that awareness would somehow blunt the grief I was bound to feel when it finally happened, but I was wrong. I reeled.
Now, four months later, I still find myself in a fog most days. Time lasts forever and then evaporates. It's Friday already? Another friend who lost her father almost two years ago told me that the grief would fade and then come raging back when I least expected it. She was right. It comes in small moments. A wedge salad—my dad's favorite—on a menu at a restaurant. A security question—what is your father's middle name?—when I'm logging into my bank account. But the one that unraveled me almost completely was the email.
In an effort to accomplish something, I had sorted my emails and was deleting large groups from places like Amazon and eBay in an effort to get the unread number down below four digits. That's when I found the block of messages from him. My dad was not an affectionate man. Most would say he was somewhat controlling and often insensitive. He softened in his old age, and his unadulterated love for my kids mended years of hard feelings and small resentments that I had worn until they and I were frayed at the seams. So when I found one particular email, I was undone. He apologized for yelling at me. He apologized for being so hard on me. He told me that he loved me. That he loved my children. That I had always made him proud. That he didn't tell me he loved me enough.
The email trailed off without ending. My dad wasn't the best with electronics, but he tried. He probably accidentally sent it and just left it at that. It wasn't even signed. It was in all caps. The whole thing was maybe four lines long. I sat sobbing at my computer for far longer than it could have possibly taken him to write it.
Needless to say, this has been quite a year, and it's only the beginning of May. I have grown up so much, and that has nothing to do with my birthday.
My dad never tolerated needless worry. He could never understand fretting over things that couldn't be changed. I think that was one of the final lessons he wanted to impart. I could turn that number over and over in my head, but it wouldn't get any smaller. I am 40, and now I realize that it's not such a big deal after all.