keenchick

Stories and thoughts about family and life

Middle-aged

on April 19, 2012

I certainly hope I’m not, but the thought has crossed my mind.  I turn 41 in a couple of months, and while I’m not one of those people who get hung up about ages and numbers, it is a bit sobering when you think about how much of your live you’ve lived, and what you have or haven’t accomplished in that amount of time.  

We were on a Boy Scout camping trip recently, to the Historic Washington State Park in Washington, AR (near Hope).  As Boy Scouts do, we were performing a service project which involved cleaning a path through the edge of the cemetery where some graves had recently been discovered.  The already existing cemetery was beautiful, and well-kept, and the caretakers had recently realized that they didn’t actually have all the area they needed fenced off.  

As we worked to clean and haul brush and trees back up through the area to the entrance where it could be removed by park staff, I marveled at the beauty of some of the headstones.  This area was created around the time of the civil war, and the town was significantly larger at that time (it was the state capital for a time when Little Rock fell).  Most of the markers at that time were wood, but several were various types of stone or concrete.  A couple were large, ornate structures with intricate detailing up and down.  Many were flat slabs on the ground.  Most were difficult to read as time had faded their information.  

Several were family plots, and you could see the parents, their children and those children’s spouses all laid to rest side by side.  The average age for these people at death was between around 38 and 50.  There were many children who passed away, and most of them were 11 or younger.  Several sets of children around 2 were found.  Imagine what a difficult life that must have been.  

The most beautiful headstone was a obelisk about 7 feet tall.  It was marble-like, and had poems on two sides.   One was dedicated to the mother, who apparently died during child birth.  It spoke of the love and adoration the father had for her, and how his mate had been taken from him.  She was barely 30, and it broke my heart.   One the next side of the obelisk was a poem written approximately two years later, now dedicated to their daughter, and spoke of how the father had so adored the little girl, and now was left alone in his grief.  There was no other writing on the monument.

One of the other moms was with me as we walked through the cemetery, from monument to monument, marveling at the ages of the deceased and the state of the various tombstones.  That one struck us both as the saddest, and the most beautiful one we saw.  We talked for several minutes about how sad the whole ordeal was, and how no one came back and placed a poem for the father, which was even more tragic.  He had known true loss, and had built such a beautiful memorial for his beloved wife and child.

We only found one person in the cemetery with an age over 60.  She was 71 at the time of her death.  We mused that she must have been revered at that time as someone at 100 would be today.  She had seen a wealth of change and hard times.  Near the entrance of the cemetery was a family plot, with all the headstones still well intact.  A father, a mother, a grave where two infant children were placed together, another daughter and her husband, and a son.  It struck me how their family units were so united, and how, even in death, they were with each other.  

We discussed at length that afternoon how much life they had missed.  How we are only now at the ages of many of the deceased at their death.  How it really puts into perspective how much time you really have.  I vowed several years ago to not miss anything if I could help it, which is what propels my husband and I to travel as much as we do–I want to see as much of the world as possible and take in all that beauty and life myself.  These people never had those opportunities, and probably never knew any better.

It always renews my commitment to myself when I see someone die too young.  It reminds me that life is precious and should be lived with vigor and full-steam ahead.  My husband and I watch our parents, who waited to “enjoy” retirement, but now can barely enjoy it at all due to limitations and illnesses they didn’t have at our age.  We’ve decided to seize every opportunity we possibly can to have a full, happy life.

I’ve been met with several situations surround death lately, which have reinforced this commitment to life.  I have a very close friend who is dealing with the impending (and very unexpected) death of her father, and the struggles that go with that as he is in hospice care.  He is 70.  When my children came home yesterday, they told of a boy in the high school who committed suicide over the weekend.  We talked for a while about sadness and love, and knowing that you are important and special, and nothing is worth giving up your life on purpose.   He was 17.  It reminds me that every day is especially precious, and has me looking forward to what is coming tomorrow.

I might be approaching middle-aged, that’s true.  I think that I’m approaching the age of re-discovery, and realization that the first half of my life was for learning how to enjoy the second half.  I hope that you are enjoying your life, and that you get the most out of most of your days, even if not every one.  

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