TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — The Bittersweet Experience Of Growing Old

It’s been a busy last few months, as a part-time job has become more “full” than “part.” At 64, there’s this ever-growing struggle between the need for self-worth and the realization that it might not be wise to put off retirement too long.

Senior discounts and AARP notices have already become staples for several years. At this age, we begin to listen more carefully to those commercials we tuned out in the past. Cremation Society? Annuity Rates? Assisted Living?

OK, well, maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit on a couple of those. But for every time I’m told how much smarter it will be to work into my 70s, I read about a friend who’s left us before they even got the chance to “walk off into the sunset.”

The reality is, we just don’t know what the future holds. My parents both worked full-time jobs into their 60s. But Dad battled health issues and died at 73, leaving the two of them little opportunity for much deserved vacations after retirement.

The advent of social media has given us the opportunity to keep up more on the lives of classmates and friends. There’s something satisfying about seeing our contemporaries sharing old memories, posting Throwback Thursday photos and growing old together. But sometimes the more we know, the more we’re not ready for those updates we’d rather not hear.

Just last week, a former colleague shared the prideful news that he and his wife were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. Although he and I hadn’t been close friends, we’d worked together as television news people many years ago. Somehow, through Facebook, we’d renewed our acquaintance about five years ago and had begun to catch up on each other’s lives.

His last post told of a quiet, yet romantic dinner, followed by a champagne toast just before bedtime. I remember clicking “Like” and adding the obligatory “Happy Anniversary!” message to his thread.

Two days later, a childhood pal was displaying a photo of the two of them on his page. Quickly scanning the daily news feed, I spotted the phrase “will be terribly missed.” Tragically, my friend and colleague, had died in his sleep just hours after celebrating their anniversary. Sleep apnea or heart attack were mentioned as possible causes. He was 62.

This wasn’t the first time I’d felt the shock of sudden disease or unlikely departure. Three of my fellow instructors at Brown College have died recently, two of them from cancer. One was only 59. A close buddy I’ve known since grade school has seen his life turned upside down following his wife’s out-of-nowhere diagnosis of acute lymphoma leukemia. Another great friend has watched his granddaughter fight a similar battle before the age of five.

None of this should come as a major surprise to anyone. We all have heartbreaking stories to tell about loved ones gone too soon. Or lives altered drastically by unexpected major illnesses or injuries.

That’s not all. Unemployment. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Changes we never saw coming can put a dagger in those grand schemes we envisioned not that long ago.

Earlier this month, the Coyne family celebrated its first wedding in 30 years, as my sister’s daughter, Elizabeth Ullyot, would marry Mike Borneke on a steamy Saturday on Boom Island, overlooking the Mississippi River. It brought out a flood of emotions, particularly since the last wedding happened to be ours.

As Laurie and I later paged through photos from both events, we were struck by the similarities. A warm weekend in June, the joy and anticipation of what might lie ahead. Friends and family members gathering to dance and celebrate the union of two people with great plans for the future.

But it also brought back bittersweet reminders that life goes on, with us or without us. Just seven years after our 1987 wedding, my dad would be gone. A few years later, one of my groomsmen would pass, too. Many of the guests we welcomed that day wouldn’t be around to celebrate Lizzy and Mike’s big moment in 2017.

Perhaps the photo that hit home the most, though, was the one near the back of our wedding book. It featured a group shot of the bride and groom, my sister Cheryl, her husband, Jim, and their 1-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Thankfully, the five of us were all there to celebrate again some 30 years later. But this time it would be that little girl’s turn to own the spotlight.

Oh, yeah … one other thing. I had a chance that day to work overtime hours and make some extra cash. Bolster that self-worth. Build on that retirement nest egg.

Forget that nonsense. To borrow a couple of lines from a Kenny Chesney song: “Don’t blink. Life goes faster than you think.”

3 thoughts on “TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — The Bittersweet Experience Of Growing Old”

  • Debbie June 23, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Love this Tom!!!

  • Old Gym Rat June 24, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Tom, getting to know you is a pleasure! ?Friend” me if you will?

  • Paula V. Mehmel June 27, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    Tom, this was great to read as well… Life is precious. We need to embrace it.


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