Wissot: Age-appropriate worries | VailDaily.com

Wissot: Age-appropriate worries

The passage of time like the passing of seasons brings with it different expectations. We expect the warm summer breezes to be different from the cold winter winds and we expect the anxieties of adolescence to be different from worries associated with aging.

When I was a teenager, my parents took me to a shrink to find out what was wrong with me.

I was clearly defective and my parents wanted to know why. The shrink asked me what I wanted from life and my answer was, “I just want to fit in.” I had difficulty doing that because I was extremely strange, alarmingly weird, and disturbingly different. I longed to be everything I wasn’t. The shrink told me to be patient and everything would eventually get better. It never did. Sixty years later, I still don’t fit in. I simply have accepted the fact that I never will.

I envy young people today, the XYZers, the alphabet kids. The pressures in their lives are spread out over decades not compressed into a short time span like the unreleased bellows of an accordion. I was given a single script to follow: go to college, get a job, get married, and have children. By age 25, I had accomplished all four. I was ready to take on the challenges of retirement and death, two milestones I was eager to experience.

The expectations set for the generations that followed mine are quite different. They’ve been given multiple scripts to follow without the pressure of having to follow them simultaneously. Their scripts for work, marriage, and family are flexible. The fact that most of them will be living into their 90s means there is no rush to establish adult bonafides in their 20s. Get a job, sure. But getting married, having kids and choosing a career aren’t compressed commandments for them. They’re heeding the advice of the devilishly irreverent writer, Fran Leibovitz, who said, “If you don’t have fun in you’re 20s, you’re never going to have fun. Life does not get more and more fun.”

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The pressures of adulthood for the generations in the wings are still very real, even though roles and expectations have changed. Making ends meet is as hard now as ever. So is finding love when people meet more often on an app than in a bar. Trying to be a good parent is as daunting a task in the age of smartphones as when people were tethered to landlines.

Looking back on my life, I know that I prioritized my career over my roles as husband and father. I was the breadwinner who wasn’t around when the bread was served. My marriages and parenting responsibilities suffered. I don’t want to reveal how many times I’ve been married. Let’s just say it’s between the number two and the number four. I spent more time at work than at home. I pursued a full-time career and functioned as a part-time dad. I enjoyed my kids more as a custodial dad than I did when I was still married to their mom. I wish that wasn’t true. But wishing doesn’t change the fact that it was.

Now at 78, as my life draws to a close, I approach death with a smile on my lips and a twinkle in my eye. I learned as a standup comic that the best remedy for what you can’t control is laughter. I find it funny that the words, “he died so young” and “taken far too soon” won’t appear in my obituary.

I’m less concerned with how long I live than how well I live. I’m acutely aware that happy endings only always happen in Hollywood. I’ve witnessed too many couples my age have their lives wrecked by debilitating diseases which leave one spouse an invalid and the other a caretaker. When we recite our marital vows and repeat the words “in sickness and in health,” we aren’t really prepared for the cruelties associated with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.  

The thought of living long enough to become infirm, immobile, senile, and dependent on the kindness of strangers has no appeal for me. When the independence I’ve enjoyed for so many years vanishes, I’m ready to cash in my chips, leave the table, turn out the lights, and say hasta la vista, baby.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’m on board with my own death. Hell, no. I’m deeply invested in denying it. I eventually accepted that I’d never fit in, but making peace with the reality that I’ll die someday is frankly a bridge too far.

On the days my denial of death falters, a few sobering thoughts break through. I know I don’t want to live to the point that I’m alive when one of my daughters dies. Their grieving my death is perfectly normal; my grieving theirs is perversely abnormal. I also don’t want to outlive my wife, Alyn. I’m selfish in that regard, preferring that she do the grieving when death do us part. I’ve been wildly happy with her for over 30 years. I’ve no desire trying to be happy without her.

I usually rely on Yogi Berra’s wisdom for comfort in these circumstances. Yogi famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And while it’s impossible to dispute his iron-clad logic, there comes a time that it should be over.

Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at jayhwissot@mac.com

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