Travel, health and life after 50

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Fifty was a bit of a shock to me

It’s not that I didn’t know it was coming. After all, I’d had just shy of fifty years to prepare for it. But I felt I shouldn’t be 50! I didn’t feel it, didn’t think I looked it and didn’t want to hit that serious milestone.

I remember many times, my Dad used to say with a big sigh: “Aaahhh, don’t get old, Gina.” And I would laugh and joke with him: “Dad, you know what the alternative is, right?” But he was full of aches and pains from spending 50 years (there’s that number again) as a builder. He worked on the tools every day, carrying planks, laying bricks, cutting timber and so on. He was old school and believed if you wanted something done properly, you did it yourself. In his retirement, he would struggle to get out of a chair or the car and complained daily about his bad back. He had a heart condition too – a dissecting aneurysm of the ascending aorta – which required three open heart surgeries over a 20-year period. This held him back considerably and he often lamented that he could have been more successful had it not reigned in his daring.

Sadly, Dad got “the alternative” when he passed away at age 73. He and Mum celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary (50 – sensing a recurring theme here?) in January 2012 and he died the following June. He was incredibly proud of that milestone, especially with the high rate of divorce these days. He wanted nothing but safety and security for his family and came across as rather controlling our whole lives, even when we left the nest. Controlling, not abusive. Fear drove my father. He was scared of losing control, a sentiment exacerbated by his heart condition. He knew after his third surgery that he was living on borrowed time. At the six-week follow-up appointment, his heart surgeon told him his aorta was already leaking. He said the third op was so traumatic on Dad’s body that a fourth would not be an option.

Dad tried to keep his blood pressure down with medication and we all tried not to provide him with any stress if we could help it. But life’s like that. There are stresses, worries, fears, and medicine doesn’t always dampen them.

When I was about to turn 50, I frequently heard Dad’s voice in my head: “Don’t get old, Gina.” But what I want most is to get old! Trying to reconcile those two things in my mind was difficult. I just didn’t want to be old now.

My fifty-first year (that is, between turning 50 and 51) has been a revelation. As my birthday is in late January, I’ve benefited from being able to say: “I was still in my forties at some point this year.” Still, that’s just a way of prolonging the inevitable, of not facing ‘the number’. And what is an age anyway? On your birthday, people often ask: “How does it feel to be another year older?” To which I would always reply: “I’m not another year older, I’m another day older than I was yesterday.” Even that gets tiresome.

I’ve seen 2018 as a transitioning year. Yes, I turned 50 on a particular date but every day, I’m clocking over the age miles. The day after my birthday, I was 50-plus-1-day, a month later, 50-plus-30-days and so on. Next January, I’ll be 51-plus-1-day, etc., etc., etc. Recently, I realised, I’m 50-plus-me. No matter what number my age is, I’m still me. It’s up to me to look and feel as good as I can and to stop stacking up the numbers to be something I don’t want them to be.

As I write this, I’m also plus-sized. That’s the sanitised version of being “overweight”, “obese”, “fat”. Hey, I is what I is, and it’s a constant struggle to ditch those kilos. But I like to think that the word ‘plus’ is a positive. I take a larger clothing size but there’s actually a slim woman inside me, covered in a few more layers than is necessary. I’ve never identified with being ‘a big girl’.
Back to being 50-plus, I hope to use this forum as a way to make sense of getting older. On my 90th birthday, I want to read back and laugh at the foolishness of my 50-plus angst, the way a 30-plus woman laughs at her teen-angst-riddled diary. And if I can get my head around the foolishness earlier, then that’ll be a bonus.

Meanwhile, my Dad is still gone. He didn’t get old so his prophesy was fulfilled. I intend to acknowledge and honour his fears by being brave enough to look ageing dead in the eye and say: “Right! I’m ready, lemme at it!” For Dad, for Mum who is fighting the good fight every day of her life without him, for me and for my wonderful sons and their eventual children. I’m 50-plus-me and that’s all there is to it.