Mon, 13 Nov, 2017Danielle McCarthy

Another birthday – how things have changed

Another birthday – how things have changed

Ray Thomas left his family farm in South Australia when he was in his 20s and moved to New Zealand. He has always loved writing short stories and watching sport. He married an amazing woman 16 years ago and they both retired three years ago. They love family life, travelling, spending time in their large garden and fostering young children.  

It was going to be another boring day, as I opened the bedroom curtains to let in the early morning sun. I lived alone in a one-bedroom flat in a large North Island city. Despite my best efforts to find employment, unfortunately, I was in-between jobs. Most days tended to be the same, and I tended to lose track of time.

I looked at the calendar. To my surprise, I noticed it was August 31. That meant I was another year older, so it was another birthday.

Today was going to be a little different after all.

To celebrate, I walked a short distance to the local fish ‘n’ shop to purchase lunch, and with a large bottle of Coke, returned to my flat. I then readily ate my “special lunch” while watching sport on TV, as I liked to do.

I had forgotten how old I was, so another quick look at the calendar…1997. I quickly did my maths... that makes me 48 I said to myself. No big deal.

Suddenly while watching sport, it was interrupted with some “breaking news”. “It had better be important,” I said to myself.

“Princess Diana has been involved in a motor accident in Paris,” they said.

My initial reaction was, “so what?” The papers and TV had been full of stories and reports about her for months. Yes, she seemed like an incredible lady, but probably only has a few broken bones at worst, nothing too serious, now let’s get back to the sport, were my thoughts.

Later on, another news flash, this time stating she had been killed.

Now, I WAS interested and watched everything unfold in total disbelief.

How could this have happened to such a young, vibrant, amazing lady, who seemed to touch the hearts of all who met her, plus she was the doting mother of two amazing young boys.

It didn’t seem real or possible, and extremely sad.

For the next few days, I was totally transfixed, on the events that took place. People from around the world were united in their grief, the like of which, I doubt I will ever witness again.

Now, let me fast-forward 20 years later.

It is now 2017, and I am happily married, retired and life for the most part, is great.

Oh yes, and “another birthday” … nothing special about this one, 68, which is just a number.

The press is full of the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, which is all very sad, especially the interviews of her two adorable sons. How proud she would be of them, and I’m certain, an amazing grandmother.

A time for me to reflect on the intervening years, and think about the future, which will hopefully include many more years, and “another birthday” many times over.

There have been many changes during those 20 years, some good, and some not so good. This is inevitable and is called “progress”.

Twenty years ago, my dear mum had died seven years before Princess Diana, and I still miss her just as much as I did then. She died as a result of cancer, at the age of just 74. Fortunately I was able to return to Australia and spend many precious hours with her, a short time before she died.

In those days, the country and the world had problems, but nothing too serious or frightening.

My life was not as I had hoped, but I still had excellent health, so no reason to think or suggest there would not be many more another birthday’s. Little did I know then, that within a few years, I would meet an amazing woman and reside in the South Island of the country. 

In today’s world, many regions seem to be in various kinds of total devastation over which most people have no control.

Nothing stands still and life continues to evolve, but in some ways, 20 years ago seemed like the “good old days”.

Unemployment didn’t seem to be a major problem. The majority of people could find somewhere affordable to live, and home ownership still seemed within reach for most people.

Very few people owned computers or cell phones, but we still managed to communicate with each other, and life went on. Now, children when they commence school, have more knowledge than some (me included) retired people.

When people spoke of drugs, they usually meant alcohol or cigarettes. If there were others, we seldom heard about them. Yes, they did have a negative effect on a large number of people. However, that was minor compared to the devastating impact on society these days, the modern drugs are causing.

A partner meant a member of the opposite sex, and most kids had a Mum and Dad as parents. They may not live together, but that is how it was in most families. Oh my, how society has changed. Is it for the better? Every person will have their own opinion about that.

I have recently had my 68th birthday. Would I like to be 48 again? With the daily pressures the answer is no. How about 28 or even eight?

Absolutely no, as there appear to be groups of people living in some countries attempting to change the world as we know it. Is it possible to stop these people? I guess only time will tell.

It seems to me, that two of our world leaders seem almost hell-bent on destroying each other and the world at large. Maybe they don’t care if THEY, or a large number of people, don’t have another birthday. Do they have a desire to stop their crazy almost suicidal behaviour? I’m not so sure.

As I approached my 68th birthday, more and more family and friends of my generation seem to be dying or are sick. Others are getting frail, and their bodies either mentally or physically are beginning to let them down.

It seems so sad that after years of working, and now retired and able to slow down and relax, some kind of illness besets them, which then causes changes to their lives to some degree. All of which seems very unfair.

Couples that have been together 30, 40 or in some instances 50 year and beyond, and then their spouse dies. How lost and lonely must they feel? They may have “another birthday” or indeed several, but how life for them must be so different and challenging. For decades, they have had a partner to share their lives with, to do things together, to cuddle, to talk to, or even sit in their chairs alongside each other and drift off to sleep for a short while, in the afternoon sun, maybe holding hands.

Now that is gone. All they are left with are (hopefully) happy memories of years gone by.

For me personally, my wife whom I lovingly describe as a “tough old bird” had never been sick or taken any kind of medication suddenly became very ill and was rushed into hospital for several days. Initially it was thought her condition was quite serious. Fortunately, it wasn’t and a few weeks later she was almost back to full health.

It was a real “wake up” call for me. How could/would I live without her?

Unless I die first it is a question that one day I will need to be answered, but hopefully not for “another birthday” or maybe/hopefully, another 20 or so.

The house we live in will not be left to me (family reasons) so what would happen to me, and where would I live?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an out-going bubbly personality like my wife, so I know I would be desperately lonely.

I have no blood relations in this country. I couldn’t/wouldn’t expect to live overseas with family. I would not want to be a burden on my wife’s family, as that would not be fair on them. I have limited finances put aside, which wouldn’t last very long.

These sorts of discussions many families put aside, for fear of hurting those closest to us, so largely, the many questions remain unanswered, which is quite sad.

When I think about that, the words of a well-known Robbie Williams song come to mind “I don’t wanna die, but I ain’t keen on living either,” probably best sums up my thoughts.  

Almost two years ago, my wife went overseas with family members and at the end of the trip stayed with our daughter and family. I was unable to travel because of medical reasons. Her sister and husband spent some of the time with me, but it was not the same. The daylight hours were not the problem, when I really missed my wife was during the evening and at night.

She wants to return next year for another visit.

I will still not be able to go with her. Yes, there will be another family member here for company, but things will be different.

I understand the reasoning behind the holiday, and I cannot ask her not to go, because that would be selfish of me.

While she is able to travel overseas, she has every right to do so, because eventually, she will not be able to do so.

This is a funny but true story.

Early on in our marriage, my wife insisted I buy a plot at the local cemetery, much to the horror of friends/family. Part of the reason being, that they were only get more expensive, and she wanted me to be buried close to her. Her previous husband of 20 plus years died many years ago. They shared a brilliant marriage so understandably, she will be buried next to him. She has always been convinced that I will “go first” and when she is old and barely able to walk, she wants us to be in close proximity to each other, so that when she “visits” she can come and “talk” to both of us.

Who knows, she could be right.

If I died first, then off course she would miss me.

Naturally she would get lonely, but she has a large number of family/friends, many of whom live within close proximity, I’m sure would help to look after her.

In the meantime, we will live one day at a time, and enjoy our time together, for as long as we can.

How different will the world be in another 20 years? Will we still remember who Princess Diana was?

Who knows, if I am really lucky, I may be able to write another story about “another birthday”, hopefully with my beloved wife still beside me. Wouldn’t that be something?

* Photo is a stock image.