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  • Jeanette Baker

Living and Losing

Once upon a time I naively believed the number of years people walked the earth was evenly distributed. As a teenager I took comfort knowing that my parents were in their late thirties. If actuary tables were true, I would be nearing 60 before my parents died. That didn’t happen. My dad didn’t make retirement and, my mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s, passed away at 76. Thank goodness my sister, my only sibling, was 8 years younger than me. Surely, I could depend on her to stay alive until after I’d gone. Thank goodness, she complied.


Later, I noticed that I’d cultivated “necessary” people according to their birth years. My doctor, dentist, hair stylist, a tailor who made me look thin, a parish priest who entertained his flock with slightly irreverent homilies were all younger than me. My anxiety receded. I would never have to lose these people I’d come to depend on and care for… that is, until the doctor left private practice for academia, the hair stylist had a knee replacement and changed careers, and the priest was upgraded to pastor of another church geographically inconvenient for me to the tune of more than 50 miles. The tailor, bless her, still makes me look thin and has no plans to move or retire. However, my birth year strategy was not the security blanket I’d intended.


My expectations for living and losing weren’t working out either. A close friend, born the same year I was, died of Parkinson complications. Whenever I stop in at Bagels and Brew around Halloween, I get weepy, order the pumpkin cream cheese with my bagel and remember Joann. Chris Erskine, a funny, upbeat LA Times columnist whose writing breaks my heart, lost his wife last year and his oldest son the year before. If the “living distribution” had been fair, both would still be here.





Then in April 2006 my husband died

and life as I knew it ended. I don’t remember much of that year except that, eventually, I surfaced. I was an empty nester with two adult children, not young anymore but definitely not old enough to begin researching senior communities.


Eventually, I retired, took up yoga and swimming, attended graduations, funded weddings, gave up hair color, remarried in 2012, and, over the next five years, welcomed three precious grandchildren, John, Michael and Charlotte. Today, John is 6 years old. Happy birthday to my first grandson.

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