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On My Worry List

Really Paying It Forward

by MISSY BEATTIE

Recently, I read an article about the aging population, specifically, those who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and the burden placed on families, society, and health care.  As always, I looked at reader reactions. A man said he’s saving for the likelihood of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, long-term care in a facility, so his children won’t have to bear the responsibility. I agree with the person who said she’d take her own life if diagnosed with a mind-robbing, progressive condition. You know, go while the going is good.

We, the Sisterhood, Laura, Erma, and I, discuss end times. Our own.

I have it on the best authority that I am not depressed.

I have it on the best authority that I am an Olympic worrier, could compete for the Gold in Anxiety. Erma and I could synchronize in this category. Laura seldom worries.  I am my mother. Laura is Daddy, the man who often said, “Don’t worry about things over which you have no control.”

I don’t have to know you to empathize, to assume your sorrow.

If my mother were alive, you’d be on her prayer list. You are on my worry list.

You are 40, only a year older than one of my sons, and you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  Your daughter is 10. You are a fighter, a protector of your child, and you want more than anything to survive, to see your daughter grow to become a woman, to be with her through her triumphs and trials. My greatest fear when I was your age was for my children, that one of them would be diagnosed with a horrible illness. Some of their classmates were, a girl with a brain tumor, a boy with leukemia.  “Please, no,” I would say to someone, anyone. My second fear was yours—that I would not live to raise them.

Happy and independent, my children are launched, out of my nest, building theirs.

My heart is breaking for you. My thoughts are with you. And because I don’t fear death, have had a wonderful life, and am almost ready to use my new Medicare card in a few months, I am accepting.

Several months ago, I talked with my gastroenterologist—another endoscopy to check the inflamed esophagus, the colonoscopy.  We got down. We discussed stress, the effects of stress on my body. Other than this damn stress, I’m in great shape. And I’m fine with whatever. I’ve had a fabulous life. It’s still good. I’m a runner. I walk to the grocery. I walk to the little theater a block from my apartment and see performances as spectacular as any I’ve attended on Broadway. I participate in life, this life I’ve had/have that’s brimming with love and laughter, but I am not young.

You are.

Here’s the deal: We humans are 65 to 90% water by weight, so oxygen accounts for 65% of our body’s mass. Carbon is 18%. If I could orchestrate the ultimate and pay it forward, I would—my life to you, my good health for you. This would be authentic carbon trading. I could go for this, go while the going is good. I want you to know.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.