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Emails to my Therapist

The Touchy Matter of Getting Older and Older…An Update

Dear Therapist Nicholas, I first wrote this six years ago when I was merely 68. It began: I seem to have reached The Age of Others Keeling Over. People keep getting old, falling ill, some actually dying. This sort of thing has happened before, but back then it was an aberration, cases of dying too young.

I saw this exit-watching process happen to my mother. She was 56 when my father died.  Three months later her mother died. And then friend after friend, and she had the misfortune of having an enormous number of friends. Once she went out of town for a week and when she came back she found on the kitchen table the obits of three friends, placed there by brother Franc with a vase of flowers.

Her father died. Her younger sister died. Children of friends started to go. I didn’t see how she could stand it.

Keeping On

But she still kept on–until age 96.  That’s when we lost her. I have a feeling, and a hope, that I have a lot of her #longevity genes. If I’m right, I’ll likely have, for many more years, a similar experience of getting old.

It was quite a while back when I began to notice in the paper the obits of the ruling generation I covered as a young newspaper reporter in Raleigh. That generation was twenty years older than me and and they had begun to make their exit.

More recently I learned that the dear neighborhood pal of my earliest childhood had died. That’s her on the left. She was two years younger than that sophisticate on the right. We were a couple of little fashionistas, as you can see.

This “exit” business comes as a shock, never mind that we all know it’s inevitable.


Years ago, a book review in The New York Times said my novel Sister India showed me to be “a writer with a keen sense of the precariousness of our lives….” That surprised me. It’s true that the novel is set in the Hindu holy city on the Ganges believed to be the most auspicious place to die. However the story’s about a guest house full of travelers caught in a city-wide curfew with the troubled inn-keeper and the man she secretly loves. I didn’t think I was writing about precariousness of life or that I had any such sense. I was sure I didn’t. Now I’m starting to acquire it.

In fact, my most recent novel, My Life On Earth And Elsewhere is a story of The Big Mysteries, of #lifebeforelife and life after death, of nearby and ever-present spirit worlds. Call it fantasy–or spiritual exploration, or wishful thinking, or faith. In any case, it shows me how much these matters are increasingly on my mind.

The awareness does add a sharper edge to appreciation for being alive, for my loved ones who are living. And so far, I’ve been lucky. Several of my people have survived serious close calls. Both those situations are likely at some point to change.

The Hot Roller Cure

Unless, of course, technology (in the form of medical innovation) comes to the rescue as I foolishly trust it will.  The arrival of hot rollers in my life back in the early 60s first gave me this confidence. I’d begun in my very early teens to have serious concern about whether I’d ever be able to get married, since it was absolutely necessary for me to sleep in pink foam rubber curlers.

I couldn’t let anyone outside my family of origin see me with my hair rolled up.

Then came hot rollers, which did the job in a few minutes in the morning. The problem was solved.

In fact, medical technology has already saved the day for me lately. What happened to my mother more than forty years ago — losing her husband and mother three months apart — would have happened to me when I was 68 but for good luck and good medical treatment. Bob had his very close call with his heart then in December, Mom in late February. Both got good treatment and survived.

At some point, though, I’m likely to discover — in a gut way — that I and quite a few others are going to die.

Closer to Life?

Some years ago, I was discussing with my psychologist husband (who is now retiring) the situation of a man who was losing his wife to cancer. Going through that, Bob said, can bring a person “closer to life.” I saved that perplexing phrase for later consideration, no doubt knowing that at some point it could come in handy.

It’s paradoxical of course to think that facing death brings you #closertolife. And what do the words really mean: how can you get closer to life than being alive?

The Deep Stuff

What makes that greater closeness, I now discover, is coming to know more intimately the most profound experiences of being physically and emotionally alive. I suspect anyone who has a child gets an early dose of that immediacy.

But in the course of daily routines — work, errands, getting things done

— it’s probably pretty easy for anyone to lose awareness of the deep stuff. The raw emotion, the pulsing messy heated bodily life.  The precariousness.

Our forgetting and the shocks of re-connection are both no doubt necessary; who could stand a constant awareness or a permanent detachment?

And Six Years Later?

Have I learned anything more in the last six years since I wrote most of what’s above? Mainly, I still feel that I’m extraordinarily lucky, to keep my health and my husband and so many other loved ones.

I do know a bit more about the medical world, since Bob has just finished his second round of cancer treatment. He is tired, but we’re assured that the cancer will not get him.

The loss of my mother was hard, but I knew she was ready to go. Also, having watched her suffer in her last five days, I was ready as well. Again, I was lucky; she’d been sharp and vital and still herself up until that time. My response after her death: I was depressed all of every weekend for the first six months. On weekdays–which is to say, workdays–I felt okay. Years later, I still talk to her often in my mind–and try to channel her business skill when I’m dealing with finances. passionate marriage of equals

One surprise: her death re-opened the wound of my father’s death, 45 years ago. In some way, to some degree, it was as if Mom had represented him while she was still with us.




My favorite parent picture




Getting Older and Older

This winter I turn 75. That’s a number that seems important, if one hasn’t already passed it.  I’m thinking of celebrating by trying once again to get up on a surfboard, to get some serious instruction and not give up until I’ve ridden at least one wave.

We’ll see. That’s one thing I’ve learned, that I cannot say for sure. Instead: we’ll see.



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  • Stephanie Bass
    October 24, 2023 at 2:25 pm Reply

    A thousand times yes. Thank you. So glad we are on this planet at the same time…still.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 24, 2023 at 6:56 pm Reply

      Happy to be here on Earth with you, Steph! And Elsewhere!

  • Linda
    October 24, 2023 at 3:37 pm Reply

    Thank you for writing all of that…I’m in the middle of it’s hard.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 24, 2023 at 6:55 pm Reply

      I wish you well with it all, Linda.

  • Ruth
    October 24, 2023 at 3:38 pm Reply

    Peggy this is your most meaningful and impactful blog post yet.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 24, 2023 at 6:54 pm Reply

      Thank you, Ruth! The original six years ago version has gotten more readers than anything else I’ve ever written.

  • Bob
    October 24, 2023 at 6:56 pm Reply

    Another Good post, and do stay around for a long while yet. Lbob

    • Peggy Payne
      October 24, 2023 at 6:57 pm Reply

      I sure intend to, Bob, and for you to do the same!

  • Randee Russell Bieler
    October 25, 2023 at 12:23 am Reply

    Peggy, I love this. I remember the first one and that time, I saw from this distance, of Bob’s close call. It’s all so much closer now, with Jennie and my Sister passubg and now, this morning, a friend takes a turn and knows that “… these are probably her last days here.” She is a woman on good terms with a God who is sane and loving and trustworthy and she is so filled with gratitude. I cannot imagine, but I am filled with gratitude too, that she and I and all the others who had gone and who remain. And you, get to be here all at the same time, same planet, Wow. Take care of yourself and yours, my friend. OX

    • Peggy Payne
      October 25, 2023 at 3:24 am Reply

      I’m impressed that you remember that six-years-ago post. It was an intense time. And more impressed that you’re maintaining the attitude of gratitude in the face of those losses, Randee. It’s not easy. I’m glad to be on the same planet with you and hope we’ll be on the same coast again one of these days.

      • Randee Bieler
        October 25, 2023 at 4:48 pm Reply

        That will be wonderful.

        • Peggy Payne
          October 25, 2023 at 7:08 pm Reply


  • Ikenju
    October 25, 2023 at 12:28 am Reply

    There is nothing like a family wedding to make one think of passing years. I attended my oldest grndchild’s wedding last weekend. I watched my children and grandchildren on the dance floor
    And thought about the passage of time since I married Jim and we started this big family. So many older family have passed since then. I know I am in my waning years (about to turn 83) but I want to stick around to see great-grandchildren (hoping I’ll be lucky enough to have a few) and watch them thrive as the rest have. It’s been a grand life – but I’m hoping for more.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 25, 2023 at 3:21 am Reply

      Must be quite a feeling to look out across a bunch of people that you created! Not having kids, I can’t quite imagine it. I hope you get those great-grandchildren. To have had a grand life and then keep going seems to me ideal.

  • October 25, 2023 at 4:21 am Reply

    I confess to thinking that night that none of them would be here in this moment, were it not for Jim and me.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 25, 2023 at 1:10 pm Reply

      That’s what I’d be thinking, Kenju. Seems like the right thing.

  • Mary
    October 25, 2023 at 12:51 pm Reply

    I’d like a link to the post 6 years ago. Great post btw!

    • Peggy Payne
      October 25, 2023 at 4:35 pm Reply

      Here’s the link, Mary. Thanks for asking and I’m surprised I didn’t include it in the first place.

      • Mary
        October 31, 2023 at 1:51 pm Reply

        Oh thanks and in looking back I see I did read it cause I commented. This time I saved it for going back is an excellent post. Mary

        • Peggy Payne
          October 31, 2023 at 1:52 pm Reply

          Thank you both times, Mary!

  • Bob
    October 25, 2023 at 9:51 pm Reply

    Gettin’ older is sure bettern’ not gettin’ older. bob

    • Peggy Payne
      October 25, 2023 at 9:52 pm Reply

      Yep, a whole lot better!

  • Bob
    October 25, 2023 at 9:53 pm Reply

    Good updated post. bob

    • Peggy Payne
      October 26, 2023 at 1:43 pm Reply

      thanks, bob

  • Bob
    October 26, 2023 at 11:46 pm Reply

    You write Well

    • Peggy Payne
      October 27, 2023 at 5:31 pm Reply

      Thank You, Bob!

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