Uncle Barry, our family’s patriarch, turned 90 years of age on September 29, 2020. Due to COVID, we have not seen him since last Christmas. But a birthday of this magnitude needed to be celebrated, although the celebration was on a much smaller scale than we would have liked. Mike and I travelled from Raleigh to Suffolk, Va. to visit with Uncle Barry on his birthday and took him out to dinner. It was a sweet visit. Although I did not want to “interview” him, I did ask him a few questions about his life and his recollections.
I asked Uncle Barry if he ever thought that he would live this long. He replied, “I had hoped that I would live until the turn of the century.” That obviously was 2000, twenty years ago! Longevity is in his maternal genes, his mother living until she was 87. He had four brothers, all of whom have passed away, and most at older ages; one at 93, one at 81, one at 76, and one at 34. He had three sisters, one who died at 91, one at 89, and one at 84. The brother who died at 34 died from an accident; all of the others were from “old age.” Uncle Barry’s father passed away at 62 from a heart attack. His parents were divorced, and although Uncle Barry knew his father, he never knew any relatives on his father’s side.
Uncle Barry is my uncle by marriage. He was married to one of my mother’s sisters, Aunt Bebo, who passed away in 2000. He and Aunt Bebo helped “raise” me. He was the most constant male figure in my life and cared for me as a daughter. He and Aunt Bebo had two sons; his oldest passed away years ago at 40 years of age from a heart attack. His youngest son lives a few hours away from him and is in good health.
Uncle Barry has always been a worker, serving in the military for four years, working for the FAA for many years, and having a lawn care, lighting, and irrigation system business for many years as his last career. At 90 years of age he still services some of his irrigation system clients.
I asked him if looking back from this age, is there anything he would tell his younger self? Never being one who “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” he only had one answer to that. “I learned the importance of finishing what you start at a later age. I didn’t learn that until I was in my 50’s. I wasted a lot of time until then. It is important to finish what you start.” We can probably agree to that.
Uncle Barry still maintains his home, living alone in an area where there is little family nearby. Since he is with our extended family for holidays and other events, Mike and I have talked about needing to prepare for the time when Uncle Barry needs to consider moving closer to us so we can care for him as needed. We have talked about that with him previously and discussed it again this week. He is open to this. He had already told us that he has “my affairs in order for when I pass .” The time until then is where our focus with him should be now. These are not easy decisions for any of us to make, but not making them early enough is a mistake.
It is likely that many reading this are much younger than 90 years of age. Regardless of our age, none of us know how long we will live. Since we cannot determine the quantity of our years, perhaps it is time well spent for us to focus on the quality of our years. The answers to a few questions can help us do that.
Are we living the life we want to live? Are we able to spend much of our time doing things that bring us joy? What would we tell our younger selves, perhaps with time to change some of what we want to change? Maybe not easy questions to answer, but we will answer them, just when? Will the answers come while we still have time to course correct?
Happy 90th birthday to Uncle Barry. He has earned his celebration.
Today we enter the last quarter of 2020.What will we do with these three months that are left of this momentous year? Pandemic or not, it is time to make whatever time we have count for more than obsessing over masks and social distancing, as important as those are. It is time to make sure we are being our best selves, living our best lives, for however many years we have.