59: A Certain Age

Since sometime last fall, I’ve been struggling to not succumb to a kind of low-level, background malaise that is uncharacteristic for me. I’m usually sunny, or at least resilient and optimistic.

But lately, I find myself close to tears at odd moments, or wrestling with a formless anxiety that seems to come from nowhere. I worry more. I feel insecure about my future. Where I have always been firmly decisive, now I second-guess decisions even after I've made them. Should I really have done that? Would it have been better to… 

Yet when people ask how I’m doing, I say “Fine.” I’m not. I just don’t know how to explain what’s wrong. 

Life’s not always sunny. It’s natural to worry, to feel anxious and out-of-balance at times. But I’m sick of this. I want the old me back. And I can’t seem to will that to happen. 


Yesterday, as I was walking along Cherry Creek, headed back to my hotel after helping host a workshop at Denver Botanic Gardens, I suddenly realized what’s wrong.

It’s not me. It’s my age: I’m 59, the same age Richard was when he saw those legions of birds on a hot August morning in 2009. The bird hallucinations that were the only major symptom of something drastically wrong in his brain, the tumor that would eventually kill him.

Richard shoots an "us" selfie, 2009

His 59th year was the beginning of the end of us, though we didn’t understand (or allow ourselves to admit) that reality for a long while. 

So it’s no wonder that beneath the surface of my conscious mind, my subconscious is watchful, looping in a whirl of unease and anxiety. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for some unimaginably horrible thing to carve another hole in my heart. 

The January when Richard was 59, we had our first hint of the parting to come when he stayed in Colorado for his “radiation residency” while I led a writing workshop on Isla Espíritu Santo off Baja in subtropical Mexico. 

I had planned the workshop a year before as a decades-belated honeymoon that would allow us to explore one of our dream destinations, that wild desert island surrounded by the azure blue waters of the Gulf of California. 

And then came the bird hallucinations, the cancerous tumor, and the radiation treatment that couldn’t be delayed. I wanted to cancel the workshop; Richard was adamant that I needed to go. (When he made up his mind, nothing could move that man!)

So I left him in Aurora with Molly the day after Christmas. Going to Mexico without my love was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We had always traveled hand in hand.


HIking the shore near camp, Isla Espíritu Santo, Baja California. (Photo: Chris Bradley)

Until that week when he was undergoing radiation treatment in snowy Colorado and I was camped on a beach in balmy Mexico, kayaking with sea turtles, snorkeling with sea lions, seeing the place we had dreamed about—without him. It was a foretaste of a solo existence I never wished for.

The dread of what Richard’s 59th year brought to us has apparently been lurking in my subconscious ever since, awakened once I reached that same age. 

Now that I recognize the cause of my malaise, will it dissipate and lose its power? I don’t know. I do know why I am feeling so out of balance, so alert for the disaster my subconscious is sure is about to happen. 

It’s comforting to remember that magical time on Isla Espíritu Santo, being lulled to sleep by the shushing of the sea and waking to pelican bellies thwacking the water as they stunned fish to eat; a week of canyon wren trills echoing off rocky cliffs above our camp and Pedro, our guide, laughing as he showed us the secret waterfall, the sea lion colony, the petroglyphs in a cave. 

Clamming, "our" bay on Isla Espiritu Santo, Baja California

To remember how Richard’s smile beamed bright as the Baja sunshine when he and Molly spotted me in the crowd at the airport, his joy in hearing my stories of that wondrous place. 

Most of all, it is deeply reassuring to remember the strong and sweet love that flowed between us even as his life headed around that bend to whatever’s next. When I feel the warmth of that love and his smile, I know it is possible to live happily and well, despite the hole his leaving carved in my heart. 

Before… (Photo by Scott Calhoun)


I’ve been cranky around the edges for the past several weeks, less patient than usual, easily irritated and sometimes outright bitchy. I’ve embarrassed myself with my moods, and wondered more than once where the good-natured me went and who is this out-of-sorts woman currently inhabiting my skin.

Yesterday afternoon was a particular low point. I got up feeling good and blazed through my Saturday household to-do list. I cleaned the guest studio after a recent visitor, vacuumed the house, painted the formerly boring gray mailbox poppy red to match the exterior window and door trim (that’s my quite eye-catching mailbox in the photo above), and pruned the tomato plants attempting to grow into a jungle in the stock tank on my side deck. 

By two-thirty though, I was edgy and restless. I could feel a mood coming on.

(Just in case Donald Trump happens to be reading this, I’d like to point out that a woman is entitled to have a ‘tude without any blood issuing from her body whatsoever.) 

I thought about going for a hike in the hills across the river, but I didn’t feel like going alone. And I also didn’t want to impose my potentially whining, grumpy self on any of my hiking buddies either. 

After some dithering–which only made me more annoyed with myself–I headed downtown to visit my two favorite galleries, thinking that looking at art and chatting with the friends who own each place would cheer me up. 

I was right. I also indulged in some retail therapy, something normally off-limits in the service of sticking to my budget. But I couldn’t resist the ice cream scoop with the beautiful hand-carved wood handle at Gallery 150.

The wood felt so smooth and comfortable in my hand, and the scoop reminded me of something Richard would make–a “functional sculpture,” as he called the household objects he created, lending a connection with the earth to things we use everyday. 

And then down the street at Cultureclash, I indulged myself again and bought a pair of mini-carpenter’s level earrings I’ve eyed for quite some time. The symbolism (harking to tool girl) made me smile, and when I read the artist’s card that accompanied the earrings, I knew I needed them: 

These levels are a wonderful reminder to keep your life in balance.

Oh yeah. 

From Cultureclash I strolled across the street to YOLO Clothing, and found exactly the swing cardigan I’ve been looking for. It was in my budget, so I bought that too.  

As I walked home, I gave myself a lecture. “You can’t just indulge in buying things whenever your mood needs a lift,” I told myself firmly.

And then I thought idly about the date and a light went on in my brain. I knew immediately why I was restless and out-of-sorts: It was Richard’s and my 32nd wedding anniversary.

I had spent the day doing just the sorts of things we would have done: putzing around the house and yard, perhaps taking a hike in the hills, strolling Richard’s favorite galleries downtown, buying something special for each other (the ice cream scoop for him, the earrings for me), and then treating each other to dinner out. (Which I did not do, in part because of the budget, in part because celebrating alone is still too painful.)

As I walked on, I also realized why the extended period of crankiness around the edges. Richard’s 65th birthday fell almost exactly three weeks ago yesterday, on July 16th. 

We had plans for the year: Richard would retire and be free to sculpt without worrying about money; we’d celebrate his significant birthday and our anniversary by taking one of the dream trips on the list on our refrigerator, to Ireland and Scotland, exploring the Celtic cultures we both were born to. 

Only that didn’t happen. Richard, my partner in love, laughter and life, died of brain cancer four years ago this coming November, at age 61.

I weathered the shock, the grief, and the wrenching apart of my life. I charted a new path, one that acknowledges and celebrates the decades we spent together and the way we shaped each other into the people we were and are, and also one that allows me to be happy in this unasked-for solo life. I am happy–mostly.

Only these particular two anniversaries brought another chunk of grief to the surface.

I didn’t recognize that until yesterday evening as I walked home, my purchases in hand, Richard clearly still in my heart.

As he will always be.

There’s the laughter part: Richard posing with the giant artichoke in Castroville, California.