When I’m 64

by vernsanders on July 13, 2010

For reasons I’ll get to in a minute, I’m starting a new blog. I’m not abandoning this one…far from it. It’s just that I need to blog about another topic, and I’ve decided that this isn’t the place to do it. This post is cross-posted on both blogs, but after this one, you’ll have to subscribe to the new blog in order to read more about today’s topic. At least for the time being, I’m not intending to address the subject again in this space.

The new blog is When Vern is 64. I tried to get the name “When I’m 64,” but, of course, that was taken…duh…sigh…

As you can imagine, the title of the new blog implies that I’m not that age…and I’m not. But, as of last week, I’m knocking on the door. And 64 is a very important age to me, and the reasons have nothing little to do with the Beatles tune. If you are a close friend or a member of my family, you know what is coming. It is a little scary to tell this story in public, but I’ve decided that I have to do this, if only because it will be easier to tell the story once rather than lots of times over the next year. It is a story I’ve lived with for a long time. Some of it is hearsay. Some of it is recollection. Some of it may not be factual, if you did the research. But whether or not all of it is true on paper, it is very true to me. It has become part of who I am. In fact, some of my family believe that I obsess about it. I don’t think so, but the story as I know it affects me daily, and it governs how I live. So I need to tell it in public, if only to put it in perspective…

I am an only child, and my parents were not young when I was born. As a result, a lot of their lives, including family stuff, had played out by the time I turned 21. It turns out that on both sides of my family, the prevailing cause of death is an unexpected heart attack. When you survey the death certificates of all of my parents siblings, it is unusual to find someone (like my mother, for instance) who died from something else.

But there is more to it than that. My father was an amateur genealogist, so he compiled family histories…going back to sometime in the late 17th century on his side, and to the early 18th century on my mom’s side. And those records bear out the pattern. Heart attack. Statistically speaking, I am a walking cardiac arrest time bomb.

But there is more to it than that. My dad was the youngest child. He had two brothers. As you can guess, they both died of heart attacks, in birth order. When my dad’s immediate older brother died, at the age of 62, my father was 61. Being a naturally curious sort, he checked the records, and figured out that no male member of his family had ever lived past the age of 63. Within 6 months of his brother’s death, my dad sold his business, and transitioned into retirement.

He lived to be 93…survived my mom by 10 years…and died of old age, although his heart stopped unexpectedly, so I consider the cause of his death to be a heart attack.

I was 22 when my dad retired. Because he was 40 years older than me, and because he told me the story, I lived for many years with the knowledge that my time with him would be precious. To my knowledge he never let the information affect how he lived, day-to-day. But the information affected how he lived, day-to-day. Life was precious, and not to be wasted. There were things to do, places to see, knowledge to discover, and people to meet.

From the time I was 22, I had a great model (in my opinion) of what retirement should be. I saw first-hand the value of trading time for money, and so I quit chasing dollars.

At the same time, it made me old. (I missed middle age. I was 65 until I turned 50, and then I made a deliberate decision to be 29. The rest of my life.) From the earliest time I can remember, I was around older old people (with the exception of my cousins, and while I was in the classroom). It was weird, in a way. I knew I had to retire early, because otherwise I wasn’t going to get the chance to retire. (My target retirement date was my 50th birthday, but it didn’t quite work out that way. I had to wait until I was 52. Yes…I know that I am the publisher of a magazine now, and the company includes a couple of websites, and streaming audio channels, and it seems like I’m not retired, but, in my mind, I am, and that’s a different story.)

In any event, I looked at life through old peoples’ glasses, so to speak. I was an angry old man in an angry young man’s body. I dreaded turning 62, even when I was 25. I began a mid-life crisis of sorts at 29, which made it even worse…I figured my new “termination” age was 58…great…

But of course, if you were paying attention, you remember that I said my dad lived to be 93. So at some point along the way, I figured I would plan as if I was going to live to be 93, but live like I was going to die at 63. I have not regretted that decision.

But now I am 63, and my biological clock is really ticking.

The new blog will be about knowing the statistical probabilities, taking into account the statistical deviation of my parent’s deaths, and looking a big milestone straight in the eye. It will be about planning for the potential of my demise in less than 365 days, yet living as if I will grow older than my father. And celebration. It is an odd conflict of interest, and I am sure that it will be interesting to go through it.

Just to be clear…I’ve not been diagnosed with some fatal disease. This is more along the lines of “enjoy life…you don’t get out of it alive anyway.”

It is appropriate that I start the new blog on my daughter’s birthday. It is my intent to blog as close to daily as possible, and finish when I hit 64. I welcome your interest in my journey, and comments are always appreciated. Thanks for listening. Now, at least on my dotdotdotblog, I return you to your normal programming.

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