Coming to Terms With the Lasts in Life as You Get Older
The life lesson became clear while organizing my father's office.
Sitting on the pale white folding chair, I pulled the pages from the clear sheet protectors. Each binder contained hundreds of hours of work, and now I was tossing his efforts into a burn box.
We spent much of the weekend organizing his office. At 84, my dad is easily overwhelmed. I gave him a five-day warning so he could adjust to the idea before I dove into the piles of paper. I wanted to make the process as painless for him as possible.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the way it rocked me to my core. The lasts in life sneak up on you, and when you first realize that, it’s like running into a tree.
For many years, my dad was a traveling speaker. A meticulous organizer, he printed each of his talks with large fonts and double-spaced type. He painstakingly placed each page in a sheet protector held together in a one-inch, three-ring binder. Each colorful binder also included his private notes and copies of his research material.
My dad gave up public speaking more than a decade ago. I watched him mourn the end of his speaking career, but I didn’t understand the pain he felt. I hate public speaking, so I never understood how anyone could enjoy it or why they might miss it.
His last few talks, he struggled to remain standing the entire 30 minutes, and it was clear his aging mind was muddling his thoughts. Each time, he left the stage exhausted, often too tired to drive back home. As much as he hated the idea, he knew it was time to stop.
The reality of the lasts in life didn’t hit me then. I knew my dad was giving up something he loved, but the true emotional toll escaped me.
Much of our lives are built around firsts. As babies, we have our first laugh, first word, and first steps. As we grow, we have our first day of school, our first girlfriend or boyfriend, and our first job. Then comes the first marriage, child, and house, not always in that order.
While traversing middle age, the firsts start to give way to the lasts. An epic hangover teaches us it will be the last night we spend partying like a 20-year-old. An injury or illness forces us to play our last football game or run our last marathon. Intense gallbladder pain helps us give up our last greasy meal.
Before long, more lasts appear. There’s the last child born, the last day of work, and the last house or car we’ll own.
We may celebrate some of our lasts. We have retirement parties, moving away gatherings, and lifetime achievement awards, but many lasts slip by with hardly a notice.
The idea of the lasts further hit home at my workplace a few days later. The decorative wood doors on the front of our office building needed to be refinished, so my boss and his wife tackled the project.
They completed their task in one long weekend, and the doors turned out beautifully, but my boss told me the following Monday that it was the last refinishing project he would do. He said he was getting too old to handle all the time on a ladder, sanding, and staining. His whole body ached, and the pain wasn't worth it.
My boss is making a conscious decision to stop restoring wood doors, marking ours as his last project. However, many lasts happen without us knowing it.
I have the chronic illness, Familial Mediterranean Fever. Along with periodic fevers and constant pain, it also makes me feel dizzy most of the time. I often feel like the floor is slanted and cling to walls and furniture to maintain my balance. I don’t even consider getting on a ladder because it’s hard enough to stay upright on level ground.
I’ll never repair another roof, rescue a kitten from a tree, or change the bulb in the floodlight at the end of my house. I didn’t know it was the final time when I stepped off my last ladder, but that experience is now part of my past.
If I let myself think about it, ladders are only one of many lasts that slipped past with no fanfare. I wonder if I'm at the point where my life moving forward will feature more lasts than firsts. It’s too sad to spend much time contemplating that reality.
All this brings me back to my efforts to organize my dad’s office. As I sat on my folding chair, I stared at the stack of papers in the discard box, my dad’s collection of lasts soon to disappear.
It felt like there should be a celebration, maybe a modest parade, to mark the conclusion of a significant part of his life. Instead, it was just me, tired and sweaty, pulling yellowed pages from aging sheet protectors.
In silence, I let the tears form a private parade as they marched down my face. This last I could mourn because, for my dad, there’s only a few more left.
Celebrate your firsts and live every day to the fullest. When they come, acknowledge your lasts and celebrate those as well. It’s all over before we know it.
Until next time, keep fighting.
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About the author
Bipolar for 49 years, chronically ill for 36. The voice behind the Speaking Bipolar blog. Wrestles taxes by day, wrangles words at night. Thinker. TV Addict. Poet. Links: https://speakingbipolar.com/socialmedia