I woke up yesterday morning feeling vaguely depressed, but until my husband Nick wished me "happy birthday", I didn't realize this was the day I turn 75-years-old. I think I was dreading this birthday partly because my mother died at 74. (Her birthday was Feb. 3, 1911, mine is Feb. 4, 1941.) My mother died of congestive heart failure and actually outlived her doctors' predictions by about a year.
So I drank my morning coffee and tried to sort out the jumble of thoughts and emotions. This 75th birthday, so close to the beginning of a new year, was definitely for me a liminal experience, as daughter Eleni would call it. ("Limen" means threshold in Latin.) Eleni studied anthropology in college and in her blog, "The Liminal Stage". she explains: "Liminal stages are psychological thresholds, times of transition when we stand 'betwixt and between' one state and another. The biggies are birth, marriage, death -- cultures develop splashy rituals around these transitions to ease the anxiety they provoke."
You can guess which liminal stage I was contemplating. In fact, I've been talking so much about death in recent months that my kids and husband keep razzing me about it. I've sent them memos about what I want and don't want at my funeral. (No open coffin, in fact no body or casket. Funeral service for immediate family only. Some time later a party/open house/memorial service with no eulogies, only extemporaneous anecdotes with lots of food, wine and music. I've already worked out the entire mix of songs I want -- heavy on Led Zeppelin and Queen.)
Before her death, my mother, the world's most organized person, had written down the hymns and scripture readings for her funeral, specified cremation, and purchased the mausoleum niche where her ashes, and my father's, would be stowed in brass boxes that resemble books. She chose a niche which had a view of the swans on the cemetery's pond. She had all their financial affairs in order, filed neatly in her desk when she died.
My father, on the other hand, had dementia as well as Parkinson's disease until he died at 80, so he didn't even known when my mother died. His dementia first became evident at our parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1982, when he was about 76. Needless to say, I've been watching myself for signs of Alzheimer's, and avidly doing Lumosity "brain games" every day. (Daughter Marina kindly signed me up, knowing my worry about memory loss.) I realize, as recent articles have pointed out, that Lumosity doesn't really help you stave off dementia. It just measures how you become better at the games with practice. But nevertheless, it gave me comfort that yesterday's workout results put me at 91.3 percent LPI -- whatever that is -- as compared with my age group, and 97.3 percent for "problem solving" (but only 81.9 percent for memory). I was happy that my numbers had gone up, but then I realized that, overnight, the age group I was being compared to had changed from "age 70 to 74" to "over 75." Less competition!
For the past 50 years or so I've been making pretty much the same New Year's resolutions as everyone else: Lose 10 pounds, go to the gym (or Pilates) twice a week, publish a book with my own name on it, learn Spanish (so I can communicate better with my bilingual grandchildren).
This year my New Year's resolutions changed. I'm no longer interested in improving my weight, career, or possessions (but still want to learn Spanish). All my resolutions can be collected under the theme: GET RID OF STUFF. I am a hoarder, as my family will attest. I even bought the best seller "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo, but after reading several chapters I had to stop, because it was making me feel so guilty. Now I'm going to target certain areas -- my studio, my computer desk, my make-up area, the library and especially my closets -- one at a time. Tons of papers have to go. All those books I'll never read again will be donated to the Grafton library for sale. All my office-appropriate clothes will go to "Dress for Success" so that other, younger women can find jobs. I've told the kids, whatever they want, take it now, (in hopes of avoiding, as among my mother's nine siblings, bitter schisms between two children who want the same antique bureau).
As the day of my 75th birthday moved from morose reflections over coffee to astonishment at the sight of over 200 birthday wishes on the Internet, I alternated between tears (over the card my husband gave me) and laughter (for instance when daughter Eleni posted on Facebook: "Did you know that on her 60th birthday I witnessed this woman sip from a hash milkshake in Amsterdam? Trust me, she was in it for the milkshake. Happy Birthday, Party Girl!)" I was delighted to receive calls and gifts from son Chris and daughter Marina, both on the opposite side of the country, and chuckled at the books Marina sent: "The Alzheimer' Prevention Program", "Keep Your Brain Alive" and "41 Uses For a Grandma" among them."
At the end of the day, at dinner in the romantic restaurant Casa Tua in South Beach, FL, Nick and I told each other how lucky we are that we've made it through 45 years of marriage, that we have three great kids and two extraordinary grandchildren, and that when we get up in the morning, no parts of our bodies hurt. That's a rare blessing when your age group is "over 75." So by the time the waiter brought a birthday crème brulée with a candle in it, (as well as a "chocolate meltdown" -- both surprises ordered by daughter Eleni) -- I felt ready to cross the threshold into the next liminal stage, whatever it brings.