Choices that Bring Unexpected Losses

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Photo by Stan on

My favorite cousin is kvetching about how decision-making has taken a turn since he turned 80 years old. And I might add, he does question his birth certificate as we both agree that Baby Boomers still feel 18 years old because the image in the mirror doesn’t reflect the18 year old self.

He has always been an active tennis player, skier, daily walker and still  loves dancing to the Oldies But Goodies. He had a dental career for over 40 years, continues to keep up with new medical information, takes current events and history classes, has no problem driving, traveling or playing with the grandkids.

What he has a problem with are the medical issues that keep him from his former physical activities, like tennis and skiing. Even after a diagnosis of a rare form of blood cancer that he was treated for and is in remission, it’s a shoulder problem that annoys him the most because it keeps him from doing the sports he’s always been active in and loves.

And therein lies the problem: For many years he has joined a group of buddies for a yearly ski trip, A Boy’s Weekend! But recently he grappled with the emotional/logical decision as to go or not go! He logically knows he should not take the chance of racing down the slopes with the possibility of injuring the bad shoulder VS rising above the problem and go with his emotional desire to not let it get in the way of his quality of life.

He doesn’t want to be held back because of his age, shoulder issue or his mind telling him what’s best. He wants to continue to live his life and not relent on the number on his birth certificate nor what his doctor recommends.

He also knows this is not the biggest problem in the world but he does see it as a crossroads in his life. I did point out to him, as his wife begs him not to go, his real issue is that he’s dealing with a true LOSS in his life. This decision communicates a loss that is tangible, creates a rethinking of life-style and mind-set while reinventing the 80 year old man he is now and how his future will reflect that.

This small but significant issue raises many questions we must face as we age, especially because the realization that our minds and bodies aren’t in sync is painful, confusing and I’m not sure we are prepared to coup with the losses that come with it. As Jews, we are good at the loss/mourning process, we know how to do shiva, we know how many days to sit and grieve a loss, what foods to eat and what to expect from our community.

But as we get older, unexpected issues confront us that we may never have considered issues of loss. I’m sure we all fear the day when we’re told we can’t drive any longer.

I’ve not yet seen a manual for grieving the loss of our physical capabilities, our daily limitations, and, I might add, the foods we eat.

Don’t get me started about the loss of not being able to eat what I’ve enjoyed my entire life! I will never eat a pizza or sourdough bread again, real sour cream on latkes is a delight of the past and opening the freezer for Ben and Jerry’s is a memory from my younger self!

Yes, there are many substitutes for gluten and dairy but it’s not the same. Going to a restaurant or to someone’s home for a meal is a scary situation because even if you ask if there is dairy or gluten in the prepared foods, you can’t always be sure. The consequences to your stomach and digestive system are not worth one bite of pizza!

During parts of covid, I had friends who could not/would not give up their social lives. Dinners, lunches, grocery runs, mall shopping was a must with the explanation, “My mental health is as important as my physical health and staying home 24/7 is more than I can handle!” This was a conscious choice/decision. I personally was not able to wrap my brain around that theory because taking the chance of becoming ill was like eating an ice cream cone (dairy and gluten!) and the results were not worth the few moments of pleasure.

I might add those folks I’m referring to all got covid, some more than once, with comments, “I have no idea how I got covid!” As my Bubbe would say, “With a kinehora and pu-pu-pu,” to date I’ve stayed healthy and indoors so much the past three years that I now have a Vitamin D deficiency issue! Better than covid, and still better than eating dairy and gluten, as one pill and the increase of Vitamin D fortified foods help the deficiency!  And if winter ever goes away, I will get out into the sunshine without the overwhelming fear of getting covid like we experienced two/three years ago.

I must also add that a great fear of becoming ill for me is that I live alone and being sick by yourself is terrifying. I recently got the norovirus, “I don’t know how I got it, especially because I wear a mask outside” and hanging out in the bathroom in the middle of the night all alone, with no one to bring a glass of water or a wet towel, is not a pretty picture; especially if you don’t know if your kids sleep with their phones on or off in case you need help! (You can’t ask them that question because then they’ll always sleep with the phone on anticipating your call at 3:00 AM!) It’s sad when you can’t get out of bed the next day to make yourself a cup of tea. I consider this scenario a loss because it’s realizing I can’t always take care of yourself.

Have you considered the losses we all had during almost two years-plus of covid? If you think about it, those were days lost to us that we cannot ever recapture, holidays without family members at our dinner table, loved ones birthday celebrations, grandchildren’s “firsts.” What about the Bar/Bat Mitzvahs via Zoom? My son cancelled his wedding because of covid! Though the pandemic was not a choice, the lost time of living each day in normalcy was a huge loss.

A close childhood friend was recently in town and while chatting over lunch she shared a choice she had to make a few years back. It seems that her high school sweetheart contacted her after her husband passed away. They hadn’t been in contact for about 20 years, though previous to that, they occasionally stayed in touch. She shared with me that she never stopped loving him but he married before she did so she married someone else, had a family and a nice life. She even revealed that as she walked down the aisle, she was thinking of him.

They spoke frequently, emailed and texted for months until he finally suggested they get together. They lived on different coasts and because she was retired and he had a business, she did the traveling. As she shared with me these details, she lit up and seemed to recover her long-lost love. This went on for two years, up and back every three months staying for two weeks at a time. He lived in a remote area where there were no museums, very few shopping areas, one theater and restaurants that weren’t up to pare to her big city. While he went to work, she didn’t have much to do. She realized she was a city mouse, hated snow, hated humidity and missed the ocean.

But she was very happy when they were together. They laughed all the time, played board games, enjoyed the same TV shows and movies, took long walks, cooked together and never ran out of subjects to talk about. When she returned home they shared hours of daily texts and night time phone calls.

Then one day, as he put her on a flight back home, he told her, “If you don’t move here, the relationship is over.” There had been no conversation about her moving let alone marriage talk. She told me how shocked she was at his declaration, told him she was in-love with him, and asked, “How can you expect me to leave my children and small grandchildren right now?

All he said was, “You make the choice.”

That was the last time they ever spoke. He would not answer her calls, emails or texts after she wrote to him that she could not leave her family at this time. He even had children and grandchildren in her state and she begged him to move where both their families were. He never responded.

The choice she made was devastating to her but she knew it was the right choice as she would not give up watching her grandchildren grow nor be away from her own kids at those important times in their lives.

Her choice was a loss she never saw coming. She admitted to me that it took her two years to stop grieving and move on with her life. She didn’t regret the time she spent with him but she didn’t know if she had to do it over again, that she would or emotionally could but it better prepared her for choices and decisions. When they were teens he had once given her a copy of, “ ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.” “How ironic is that?” she said to me.

Whether it’s our health, an activity, a food or a person, is it, “Better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all”? That’s a very personal question one can only answer after exploring our personal life experiences and expectations.

As we grow older, hopefully with the companion of wisdom, we can keep the memories of what was in our rear view mirror with the understanding that the choices and losses ahead come in all shapes and sizes and have different visions of what is, could be and will be….PS: My cousin went on the ski trip, came home healthy with no injuries, noticed he wasn’t as spry as he used to be but had a great time and would do it again!


  1. Thank you for this blog post. What a tragic story about your friend and her long lost love. I hate to say it but I think your friend dodged a bullet. If he couldn’t put her before his business than he wasn’t worthy of the love she had to give him.

  2. Thank you, Debra, for your response, it’s appreciated! Your words were the exact words I told her! Who knows what other ultimatums he could have sprung on her???

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