No, not the age jumps (gaps) between brothers and sisters. For now, I’ve written enough about that topic in both The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives (shameless plug) and in many posts right here.


An age jump day.

An age jump day.

Nope, I’m talking about the days when you wake up, look at yourself in the mirror and stare in dismay at a new line that has made its debut around the corners of your mouth, the corner of an eye or anywhere else.  Or maybe a slightly deeper fold that runs along the side of your nose like a river in the Grand Canyon.

Oh, I could go on about the physical “ravages” of age.  I fondly remember the day when I was in my early 40s and a friend sat on a porch step one rung higher than mine.  She peered at the top of my head adorned with a mass of what I called a “lion’s mane” and declared, “You don’t have one gray hair!”

Honestly, I hadn’t given a thought to turning gray.  I was concerned about the small amount of loose skin between my bra strap and my arm.  (If only I’d realized then what I know now.  I would have worn sleeveless tops every day of the year.)

So, back to the present.  A new wrinkle . . . a deeper line . . . crepe paper skin . . . Your first response?  If you’re like most of us, you want to slam a bag over your head (any material/size will do) and sulk for the rest of the day.  And that’s what I recommend—minus the bag, of course.

We need to grieve.  To feel sorry for ourselves.  To wonder where all the time has gone and why we look more like our mothers/grandmothers than we vowed we ever would.

Hell, if you feel like buying a burka, go right ahead.  Cover yourself and all your imperfections from head to foot.  (If it’s summer, take care: you could suffocate.)

We grieve all kinds of losses: loved ones, pets, friends, satisfying jobs.  But, rarely, do we give ourselves permission to grieve for what society has convinced us is a loss of beauty.  Oh, we complain to anyone who will listen.  (My husband has had it up to “here.”)  We bitch about our flabby stomachs, our sagging chins, the veins large and small that mar our legs into an atlas-like illustration of all the rivers that flow through our state.

(BTW, I may take the prize for the flabby stomach thing.  Mine used to be so flat and taut.  Farewell.)

What I’ve found is a little bit of grief goes a long way.  Feel sorry for yourself.  Look at old pictures and curse the day you were born.  Maybe even try on that size 8 dress you’ve hidden in your closet in the hopes of someday being able to wear it again.

But at the end of your age jump and your day of grief, give it up.  Look straight in the mirror and thank the gods or goddesses that you look (and feel) as good as you do.  And remember: Next week, next month, six months from now you’ll look back on today and wish that you had embraced that wrinkle or sag because you looked damn good.




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My Brother’s Suicide



On his thirtieth birthday, some time in mid-afternoon, my brother stuck a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The coroner said he died instantly. My brother made sure of that. No more half-hearted cries for help. No more drug overdoses. No more jumping out of a Mexican police car speeding through the countryside en route to the nearest jail. This time he meant business and orchestrated his death with more precision and care than he’d managed anything else in his abbreviated life.

My mother found his body. She called the coroner and had what was left of my brother removed. (“It would have killed your father to see him like that.”) She found the name of a cleaning crew who did this kind of thing and had the mess all tidied up before my father arrived home. No more blood splatters on the wall, no bullet hole, no cigarette butts in the ashtray next to the bed. Just an empty, sterile room with little trace of the troubled man — my brother — who had killed himself earlier that day.

My feelings bounced like a ping pong ball on Red Bull. I should have saved him. I did the best I could. But that wasn’t enough. My life was beset by my own problems—a marriage gone sour, the responsibilities of single parenting, the search for myself. I didn’t have the time or the strength to focus on my brother. Besides, he’d stopped listening to me. Whatever respect he’d had for my opinions had morphed into a self-righteous, know-it-all, unmovable attitude that allowed no room for his older sister’s or anyone else’s suggestions.

And now he’d gone and killed himself, leaving me and the rest of our family to drown in a sea of raging emotions. If only I could talk to him. I’d let him know what a selfish bastard he was for leaving without so much as a warning. I’d chastise him for not getting his shit together. I’d ask him why in his last days he succeeded in overcoming his inertia and fooled everyone while carefully organizing his final shot. The muscles in my neck wrapped tight around in a strangle hold more forceful than any pro wrestler could manage. My brother had me tied up in knots, knots that no masseuse or therapist or time could untangle and soothe.

Everyone understandably recognized my parents’ grief. No one could possibly understand what my two younger siblings and I felt. We were “secondary mourners” whose pain was for the most part overlooked with most of the focus, squarely on my parents. Looking back, I get that. At the time, I felt marginalized, alone, and angry. Only a handful of well meaning people attempted to make me feel better by patting me on the back with a “Keep an upper lip” or “Things will get better. They always do.” Bullshit. My life would never be the same. How could it? My brother had been the benchmark against which I evaluated myself and my position in the hierarchy of our family. I had been his loving, comforting, protective caretaker—his older sister/mommy. When my mother had her hands full with my youngest brother and baby sister, I was there to pick up the slack. I basked in the power, influence, and adoration the surrogate mother mantle provided. The way I saw it, my brother and I were in sync like a perfectly tuned guitar. We weren’t twins. We didn’t finish each other’s sentences. But we liked the same people, shared similar interests, and were sometimes willing to break the rules.

It’s funny that after all the years, there is one memory that, more than any other, gives me some comfort.

We were standing in the narrow hallway carpeted in a burnt orange shag that connected my parents’ bedroom with the other four. The hallway, no wider than five feet, made it almost impossible for two people to pass each other without one having to turn sideways and slink by. The “children’s” wall phone with a long cord that, when stretched, barely reached my bedroom, was silent for the first time that evening.

My brother stood there, his t-shirt off, his jeans worm out after a day of school and a hard fought game of pickup football. His pale, almost hairless chest had filled out, developed. His back was covered with pimples.

I loved popping pimples and, because I had few of my own, I asked my brother if he’d let me pop a few of his.

Without hesitation, he turned around. I put my thumb on one of the biggest pustules and my pointer finger on the other side and squeezed. Puss oozed, and I was complete. Just for a moment. There were more pimples to pop, and I went about my obsession with joy.

Without my knowing, everything would ooze again, only this time with blood and guts.

Talking about death is rarely easy. Talking about a suicide is even more uncomfortable. What do you say beyond “I’m so sorry”? It’s apparently impolite and incorrect to ask the questions on everyone’s mind: How did he do it? Was he mentally ill?   Did he have a drug problem? What else could have been done to prevent this? Everyone wants a reason — an explanation. It helps us begin to process such an unfathomable act, to make some sense out of the incomprehensible. What no one understood, including me, is that there’s never just one reason why someone kills himself. Sure, there may be an event that pushes a person over the edge, but, in truth, there are multiple factors. And it takes years of delving into a person’s past before making at best an educated guess as to what went wrong. That’s all it is, an educated guess.

God, the questions are endless.