A few years ago, three male friends from my past contacted me.
Mark, my high school boyfriend, wrote first—an email asking me to lunch. I hadn't seen or heard from Mark in 40 years and here he was asking me out like it was July 1978 and we were still a thing.
A few months later, Hank called. Hank was a close friend from art school. We had a fun, platonic friendship but life got in the way. I hadn't talked to Hank in 20 years.
Same with Bill, a fellow art director. Inseparable for a few years, Bill and I lost touch 25 years ago.
Why now? Why, after all these years were these guys reaching out?
I admit my first thought was they had never stopped loving me and couldn't stand it anymore—they just had to see me again. But seriously, if they were going to cheat on their wives they'd have a lot more fun doing it with someone half my age. Then it hit me. All three were 59 years old and scheduled to hit the big 6-0 within months of each other.
Much has been written about the mid-life crisis—that crazy time around 40 where we have affairs and/or buy shit we can't afford. But mid-life crises are all about life choices—questioning marriages and careers. These guys were done with that. Nope, this was something else. I believe Mark, Hank, and Bill were in the throes of a late-life crisis or as I call it:
The "Shit Just Got Real" Sixties.
It totally sucks. You survive the mid-life crazies with career, marriage and bank account intact, your garage free of Maseratis—and it's back, the anxiety and depression, only now with existential dread.
The "Shit Just Got Real" Sixties is all about death—yours and mine. And the reason nobody talks about it is because Death. Duh. But it's also like the great childbirth conspiracy. If someone told us how painful it really is to have kids, people would stop conceiving and adios human race.
The SJGR sixties usually kicks off with the deaths of three close friends, a couple of cousins, your doctor of 30 years and the nice woman next door who's five years younger than you. Looking for coping strategies, you'll turn to your 85-year-old mother-in-law who's lost almost all her friends in the last five years. Don't. She's a co-conspirator. She'll smile sweetly but give you nothing.
Death is inevitable and unless you want to spend the next 20 years in the fetal position, you're just gonna have to warm to the idea. I'll share a few of my coping mechanisms:
1. There are no happy vampires
Delete the notion that older is better. Do you really want to spend your last wheelchair-bound years growing into your couch? Do you want to outlive everyone you love? You've made it to 60. People in 1217 were lucky if they made it to 30 and you're already twice that old. That's a long life. Isn't it better to consider every day over 60 as a special bonus rather than one day closer to death?
Which leads me to quality over quantity.
2. Just say yes
A friend of mine has not eaten ice cream in 30 years. Thirty years without ice cream. My last words will be "Cherry Garcia." Please, I beg of you, aim for quality. A life without ice cream is not a quality life. So, say yes to that piece of molten fudge chocolate cake or triple burger with fries; open that second bottle of wine; smoke that spliff; pop that dusty oxy you found in back of the medicine cabinet—without guilt. John Lennon said, "Whatever gets you through the night." And everyone knows John Lennon was an insightful dude. Repeat after me: Whatever gets me through the night. Make this your new mantra.
3. White light and dark tunnels
You know all those books out there with titles like "Life After Life" and "Embraced by the Light"? Read them. Don't groan. Put on your progressive lenses and start reading. The near-death experience (you know, the one where people die on the operating table and suddenly find themselves in a long tunnel gliding towards a bright white light that radiates incandescent love and peace)—it's real. Most of those people come back and report the smack their surgeons talked about them in the operating room. "Jeez, if his ears were any bigger, he could fly." And "I didn't know hair could grow there." If this isn't proof enough for you, then I don't know what is. Life is a mystery. And you don't know everything. Open up. You may be surprised.
4. Oreo, Taiga and Buddy are waiting for you
The thought of Oreo, my sweet doggie who crossed the rainbow bridge a few months ago, waiting for me in the light at the end of the tunnel makes me want to leave right now. For years, it was said pets don't have souls. Good news: Pope Francis recently announced that animals are now welcome in heaven. Whatever your vision of the afterlife is—harps and angels; grassy meadows of frolicking naked people; or, mine, a cabin in the mountains filled with all the pets I've loved and lost—you can rest assured our dogs and cats will be there and without the smelly cat boxes or leaky poop bags. See? The afterlife also has perks.
5. Steve Jobs approved
On his deathbed, Steve Jobs surrounded by his loving family, uttered these final words as he stared into the distance: "Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!" If it blows Steve Jobs' mind—someone with an imagination the size of Jupiter and the smarts and perseverance to invent the iMac, iPod and iPhone—it must be amazing.
Just what did he see?
I can't wait to find out.