Being the youngest child and only daughter of parents who were in their 40s when I was born has provided me with many unique opportunities and fair share of disadvantages. The parents of some of my friends from High School were in the same High School Yearbook as my oldest brother. My brothers were 18, 16, 14, and 9 years old when I was born.
But life is never predictable. My mom lived to a respectable age of 92. My best friend during my teen years only lived to be 21 because of someone drinking and driving. We never know what life has in store for us. But even though we don't think about it, we expect that our generation will last longer than the previous generation. Understanding bacteriology and our ubiquitous use of antibiotics has altered our understanding of nature. Once, not that long ago, large families were the norm and disease and accidents often claimed lives of some family members before adulthood. The fragile nature of life was a more constant awareness.
We who were born in the 20th Century are a lucky few generations to expect to live long and full lives. But as we approach later middle age many of us will begin to measure our lives quite differently than we have up until now. Our siblings age and their aging is more apparent to us than our own. Families age.
So as Autumn kicks up leaves and whistles chilly tunes I am reminded of time passing in a new way. This summer when I tried to contact my youngest brother, who is actually nine years my senior, I couldn't. No answer on his phone, then it was filled with messages. I didn't have my nephew's number and the email I had bounced. My oldest brother, who is in his 70s, is not in good health and hadn't heard from my younger brother for ages. Two of my brothers, the two in the middle, have passed on, one in 1998 and one in 2005. Dad passed in 1986 and Mom in 2007. I live 2000 miles away from where I grew up and my midwest family of origin never really traveled much, and as we aged we grew apart.
When I passed through the old home area this summer I deviated from my typical schedule where I arrange to meet at least one friend from my youth and just drop in and visit family when I can. I drove from Northwest Indiana through Amish country to Northeastern Indiana where I grew up. I drove straight to my youngest brother's house. My nephew was there. He told me his Dad was in the VA hospital in central Indiana. He had been diagnosed with dementia. I was floored. I went to visit my oldest brother but he hasn't tracked well for years and lives in pain. I mainly talked to my sister in law, and my oldest brother would just interject every few minutes, “Now where did you say Roger was?” I ended up visiting graves that day. A week later I was able to come through the area again and look up my brother in the VA hospital.
The VA has been an unknown quantity to me for the most part, an elderly poet with whom I workshopped in 2003 to 2005 was at the VA as his health declined. It was a last stop for old men. How could my brother be there? 9 years older than me, I certainly would not expect to be in an “old folks” home in less than 10 years. But my brother was severely wounded in Vietnam, and his only real confidant, a buddy of his for the last 40 years, died last fall. He quit managing his diabetes. He cut himself off from everyone. I saw him in January just a couple weeks before the dementia set in. He seemed disconnected and angry, but I did not expect this.
Aging has become very real for me this year, not that it wasn't real before, but seemingly in the blink of an eye, over half of my family that I grew up amongst has left this world and those who are left are not doing so well. I may have been a spoiled little sister, but that rather fun position in the family has transformed to one with a much more somber outlook.
The good news is that once proper diet and exercise were re-established my brother rapidly began getting better. He is still in a wheel chair but he seems to be in charge of his faculties again and may get to come back to his own home.