Ellen, Age 80
I turned 80 18 days ago, on March 10, 2021, which means I have officially reached my ninth decade. No big deal, you say? I don’t think of myself as a particularly reflective person; I’m more of a doer—always busy, even during Covid, still employed, many projects. But there is something different about 80. Even in only 18 days, I think about death now…not my own, for some reason…but the death of my loved ones, my friends, and particularly my husband’s. He is also 80—a healthy and robust 80 year old who hikes and bikes and just finished writing a book about Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath. He talks about things like artificial intelligence and dark matter and the movement of the sun and moon—topics I consider more or less above my pay grade, but topics that suggest a very good brain. So why does my brain turn to his death now that I’m 80? Because I know the stats. Because I look around and see how many age-mates have lost their spouses. I swear I just about never, maybe never at all, thought about the possibility of widowhood until 18 days ago.
What else feels different now? It’s hard to separate what’s Covid/quarantine-related, and what’s age related, so for now I’ll leave it at that: the dread of losing my husband, of a life without the guy I laugh with every day. And what will I do about this? I will cherish the present and be grateful for what I have now; I will indulge in nostalgia; I will continue to plan for our future together. And I will laugh at myself. I just ordered Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying, by Sallie Tisdale, recommended by a psychologist pal who knows me well. And I’ll probably start a new research project on this new decade to see how others are doing!!