The Privilege of Being Old

If I’m honest, I feel weary about being an older, second-career nurse from time to time. I think about how my high school or college classmates (from my first degree) are well-established in their careers. Yet, here I am, starting over with little to no experience in the nursing field. I don’t have the same energy as when I was a teen or in my twenties, where I could seem to function on 4 or 5 hours of sleep or pull overnighters. I would be able to make up any sleep debt by sleeping in on the weekends. Now, as a middle-aged adult, I find it difficult to sleep in as a parent to a kindergartner, and I feel fatigued when I do not have more than an average of 6 hours of sleep. It takes longer for me to recover my energy when I sleep poorly. My eyesight is changing where it’s more challenging to read small letters and numbers. I feel weakness, aches, and pains in my body that I associated with “old people” problems when I was younger. These moments make me realize how I’m getting old and experiencing the physiological changes with growing older. Sometimes, it’s discouraging. Ultimately, though, it’s a blessing that I have this opportunity to discover a job I love later in my life. It is a privilege that I can be older and try something new.

This sentiment hit me this week when I discovered my dear cousin had died. After working all weekend, my eldest cousin called me on Monday before lunch to share the tragic news. Our cousin died suddenly in a car accident. Her injuries were so severe that she passed quickly; there was no time to visit her or for family members to say goodbye. The first phone call the hospital made to the family was to share the news she was gone. She was only 37 years old. She had three kids, older siblings, and her parents are still alive.

Even though she was a grown woman, I think of my cousin as my baby cousin. She’s the youngest of my cousins on my dad’s side. I spent an entire summer in California with her family when I was in middle school, and she was only 5 or 6 years old. Since I am an only child, my baby cousin became my little sister that summer. I last saw my cousin in 2018 during a family reunion in Washington, but my fondest memories were when she was a child. It has been difficult for me to look at my daughter and not think of my cousin this past week. My daughter is the same age my cousin was when I spent the summer with her. My daughter even shares the haircut my cousin had in kindergarten.

I think about how wrong and unfair it is that my baby cousin has died. It is unnatural that the youngest of my cousins die before even my uncles, aunts, or older cousins. There was no illness or anticipatory grief to prepare us for this sudden loss. I may have concerns about growing older, but my cousin won’t get the chance to experience life in her 40s or beyond. My uncle and aunt are going through the worst loss I feel anyone can have, the loss of a child. My cousin’s children will not get to have their mother in their lives as they become adults. I’ve been grieving, but my heart also aches for the rest of her family. It’s all so tragic and sudden that it’s, at times, surreal. I take comfort in the fact that she spent time with her family the night before her accident and her last social media post was about how she was in a good place in her life.

My blog posts have been sad lately, but I am sharing an honest reflection of my life and current happenings. Thank you for your continued interest and reading. Despite the heaviness, my ultimate goal with this blog is to motivate others: If you think you’re too old to make a career change or discover a new passion, you’re not. Like my baby cousin, some people will not get the opportunity to live as long to be considered “old.” Some people do not get to live long enough to try having multiple careers. It is a privilege to be old. As challenging as it is to accept the physiological changes of aging, it is a blessing to add years to my life. To grow old is to gain more experience, to be able to start over or try something new, and to build and share memories with loved ones.

Embrace growing older and the opportunities it provides you, but please also remember to embrace and spend time with those you love.

Rest in Peace, Baby Cousin. I’m grateful for our time together. I love and miss you. Love, Ate.

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