By Tonya Killikelly

No one ever told me…

They never told me that middle age would be the hardest time of my life.  I thought that my late 40’s and early 50’s would be about freedom: freedom from the responsibilities of raising children, financially and otherwise. I dreamed of my daughter being grown, financially independent and moved into her own place. My time and money would be for my own personal devices. I would travel when and where I wanted. I would be free to have a personal life again; something I denied myself after her father and I broke up. I felt the need to separate my worlds. This is what I explained to my suitors: there is “Mommy World” and “Woman World”. If was seeing a man, he was not welcome or invited into “Mommy World”. It was reserved only for my daughter. I believe that your children shouldn’t be intimately involved, or witness to your personal life unless you’re moving forward in a meaningful relationship.  I’m happy that I’m now living my dream.

But no one ever told me that I’d be surrounded by loss also: the loss of my ancestors and contemporaries all at once.

No one ever told me…that I’d bury my beloved and loving uncle, a man whose smile never left his face, at the ripe old age of 56. He was My Sunshine, My Anchor, and My Non-Judgmental Rock. We received the news of his loss on Super Bowl Sunday and I still can’t bring myself to watch the game since that night. I was inconsolable for months and found myself hospitalized and seeking counseling to help me deal with my loss.

No one ever told me of the classmates, relatives, and friends that I’d say goodbye to at the young ages of 45, 48, and 50.

Today, I received the news that one of my oldest and dearest friends, the twin brother to a sister that I love equally as much, has died at the age of 50…3 days after that milestone. I am ravaged by my grief and feel brutalized. It’s as if I’ve had a fist fight and got walloped. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. I have blood brothers, but I love him just as much because we’ve been together through Sick and Sin. We’ve fought with each other, supported each other, laughed and cried together; that’s family. We accepted each other, no matter what, and there was never a feeling of judgment between us.

I always tell my daughter: understand the difference between family and relatives. We have a ton of relatives, but precious little family. Family is loyalty, connection, understanding, and acceptance one to another. You may not always find this with your blood relations. I consider myself an extremely fortunate person, not just because of the family I was born into, but the family that life has given to me. Sammy is one of those people. We weren’t family born of blood, but life gave us the blood of family.

But they didn’t tell me about the hurt which is beginning to seem endless; the litany of names that I’m going through in my mind right now. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We’re supposed to grow old together, laughing about the children and grandchildren, and all the mistakes we survived and all of the triumphs we’ve had. A good friend told me to think of life as if it were a cruise ship; some people get off at different ports and the ship sails on. I know that time and life are finite things, but now I’m aware of just how finite they are. When we cross that bridge marked “50 years old”, we realize that we have a lot less time and life ahead of us. It’s changing something very elemental inside of me. I’m still full of my usual piss and vinegar, but I feel a definite softening somewhere within. I’m less judgmental, more sympathetic to people and their circumstances, less inclined to hold a grudge. I’m even a little gentler with myself. I’m inspired to pick up the phone more and to text less. I’m reaching out to friends and ancestors that I haven’t seen in a long time to hear the sound of their voices. I’m paying them a visit to give them a hug and the love that just can’t be conveyed via text or social media. We can get so wrapped up in the travails of our own day to day that we may forget to give the thing we want and need the most: Love. We make the mistake of believing that time is on our side. It never was. There’s only now.

No one ever told me what this side of life would look and feel like, or how to bear it. How to watch your elders diminish with age and not let them see you cry over it. It reminds me of a line in a song by Bonnie Raitt called “ Nick of Time”:

“I see my folks are getting on and I watch their bodies change.

I’m gonna see the same in me and it makes us both feel strange.

No matter how you tell yourself “it’s what we all go through”.

Those changes are mighty hard to take when they’re staring back at you.”

I heard those lyrics in the 90’s and felt their truth then. The years are now making me feel their truth.

No one ever told me how to bear seeing the vibrant, loving, funny lady who’s your childhood friend’s Mom, and yours too, die the living death that is Alzheimer’s disease; but this is the Wheel of Life, is it not? No one gets out of it alive. I am consoled by the knowledge that our soul enters this life with a purpose, and no soul leaves without that purpose’s fulfillment.

I am reminded of and thankful for the Wheel of Life; that I am still in it and that I have you to share it with me. The Wheel of Life has blessed us with each other through the myriad stages and changes: the schools, lovers, relationships, children, quarrels, jobs, breakdowns, breakups, triumphs, and tragedies.

I hope that no one has to tell you how blessed you are to still be here.

I hope that someone you haven’t heard from in a long time calls you to say: hey! I love you! Thank you! For everything.