Old And Wise

by on February 15, 2014
in aging

Thirty years ago, I began the process of leaving my family behind, as acceptance letters to medical schools far away from my home state of Nebraska began to arrive in my mailbox.  Those remaining in NE at the time included my parents and my sister, Kathy, who was dying of cystic fibrosis.  My five other siblings were scattered far and wide, but my closest friends remained.

Kathy was the center of my life then, although I don’t think she knew it.  In her, I saw my future, but somehow was able to keep this fact at a distance and think of it only as her disease and her death.  I loved her to pieces, but I was also afraid of her…afraid to get too close and not be able to escape the reality of the horrible disease that I, too, would some day die from.

In the spring of the last year of her life, I visited her in the hospital to discuss the options that were opening up to me.  She told me I needed to leave…to go to a medical school where I could do research in CF.  To get out of Nebraska and find my own life.

Now I know that she was trying to spare me the sight of her withering body, her rapid decline, the horrible depression that she lived with as her body defied her will at every turn.  I decided to go, accepting the offer to Stanford Medical School, and packed to leave for Palo Alto.  The lyrics of a popular song back then, Old and Wise, by Alan Parsons Project, rang in my ears as I left in my Buick Skylark with my husband and dog:

 As far as my eyes can see

There are shadows approaching me

And to those I left behind

I wanted you to know

You’ve always shared my deepest thoughts

You follow where I go

Shadows were approaching me, but at twenty-three years old, I barely acknowledged them. Yet Kathy’s were closer…much closer, as I abandoned her to manage them on her own.  But I held her with me, and after only a few months of getting used to California, before classes even started, I returned to Nebraska to be with Kathy as she died.  At thirty-one-years of age, her life was taken.  At her funeral, my brother Tom, who also had CF, and I could only hold hands and understand each other in a way that the other siblings couldn’t.  Our shadows were approaching.

Inexplicably, I made it past thirty-one…way past.  I have lived entire lifetimes, as a picture perfect picket-fence marriage ended, followed by a less than perfect eight-year relationship which resulted in the two best things that have ever occurred, my two sons.  Finally, at forty, I found my true life partner, and a crazy life of boys, dogs, and a two home relationship ensued.

And then, when I was forty-eight, Tom died.  If Kathy was like a mother to me when I was young (she was), then Tom was like a caring, nurturing father.  They looked after me as a kid the way my parents couldn’t.  They understood me.  We were the sick ones.

Now, I was the last one standing.  The shadows were getting closer.  The sadness was overpowering.

And oh when I’m old and wise

Bitter words mean little to me

Autumn winds will blow right through me

And someday in the mist of time

When they asked me if I knew you

I’d smile and say you were a friend of mine

And the sadness would be lifted from my eyes

Oh when I’m old and wise

I don’t know when I am considered old and wise.  I’m certainly old.  In CF years, I’m ancient.  I do smile as I think of Kathy and Tom.  It is a sad smile, of course.  Their lives were stolen.  They didn’t get three entire lifetimes with kids and dogs and good drugs to keep infections at bay.  They didn’t live long enough to be guinea pig subjects of new medications that fix the protein that malfunctions in CF.  It doesn’t seem possible for that sadness to be lifted from my eyes.

 As far as my eyes can see

There are shadows surrounding me

And to those I leave behind

I want you all to know

You’ve always shared my darkest hours

I’ll miss you when I go

My body is not quite as functional at age fifty-three as it was thirty years ago when I held Kathy as she took her last breaths.  My own shadows are getting closer.  Antibiotics don’t work as well.  Organs are getting tired of toxins.   I have been given so much more than I deserve.  When I think of Kathy and Tom, I feel so incredibly grateful. First, to have had them as role models and caretakers.  But additionally,  I have been able to enjoy years and years of family and friends.  From old friends (AKA frieds) from way back in high school to California friends who have been with me from day one of knowing me, caring when I’m sick, helping when they can.  I’ve been able to watch my sons morph into young men, something I never dreamed would happen when I was young.  And even though two are gone, I have four remaining siblings who call and worry about me.  I have a partner who is willing to live with me to the end…not an easy task, let me assure.  I am so fortunate.  I don’t get it.

And oh, when I’m old and wise

Heavy words that tossed and blew me

Like autumn winds will blow right through me

And someday in the mist of time

When they ask you if you knew me

Remember that you were a friend of mine

As the final curtain falls before my eyes

Oh when I’m old and wise

The final curtain will fall, of course.  It has now fallen for both of my parents.  I hope that when it happens, in the mist of time, I will finally be able to call myself wise.  And I hope you will know that you were all my friends.

As far as my eyes can see

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4 Responses to “Old And Wise”
  1. Melony says:

    I think you just dipped the feathered pen into the inkwell of your wise heart. Thank you Julie, that was beautiful.

  2. Kellee says:

    YOU are not old,because we are the same age & I’m NOT old ! I’d say you have lived a life of interesting adventures & are WISE..you have been through many things that people our age have not yet encountered & those stepping stones have made you WISE.Continue to strive to be well, as CF is a thief of breath & life🌟

  3. Janut says:

    Julie-you sure know how to write a deep and meaningful blog. Made me immediately want to tell you how much I love and LOFF you. You are the bomb and I cherish every moment we get to spend together. It’s good to have a doctor in the house. Quote from a past Frieds meeting.

  4. Kay says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve lost a sister (with CF but not from CF…cancer and CF can be evil twins). I have two healthy siblings…and they do care, yet have never lived with me when CF was in full bloom so don’t completely understand what it takes. I am grateful for CF sisters and brothers who share and understand the shadows and inspire me to carry on one day at a time.

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