The reaper heads home: 'Damn, he's still alive'

The reaper heads home: ‘Damn, he’s still alive’

In my 20s I fully expected to be dead by age 30.

My dad died in an industrial accident at 29.  All of his brothers died in their 20s.  Young death appeared to be a given for males in the Thompson family in Florida in the 40s and 50s.

I broke the jinx on December 17, 1974.  In a column for The Alton Telegraph — my newspaper employer at the time — I wrote that I would have to learn how to live as a man in his 30s.  I had no reference point since my dad and uncles weren’t around to offer advice for life beyond 29.

At 40, my birthday party was a mock funeral, complete with a tombstone that read “Shit Happened.”  I celebrated by consuming a full bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold and taking a dip in an outdoor swimming pool in the winter cold of December.

When one reaches 40, there is still outlook for the future.  People routinely live to age 80 in modern society so life is not yet half over.

At 50, however, one contemplates that life has most likely passed its midpoint.  Although more people today live to 100, it is still no likely and some say life at that age is not living.

At 60, awareness of mortality grows.  An invitation to join AARP — the American Association of Retired Persons — arrived five years earlier at 55.  Mailings about retirement programs increase.

I reached 65 while in the hospital recovering from a motorcycle accident that should have killed me more than a month earlier.  At 66, I was still in rehab from that accident.

Today, I reach 67.  According to the statistics, I am retired. I draw Social Security, have Medicare, and get senior discounts automatically.  I look my age and no one asked if I am officially a Senior Citizen.

With luck and medical science I still have some good years left.  I work more than 40 hours a week taking photos, shooting video and reporting in my chosen profession as a journalist.  I have aches and pains that come with age and accidents early in my life and again two years ago that have left my body held together by braces, brackets, screws and studs and I’m neither as sharp mentally or as limber physically as I once was.

But I’m 37 years older than the age 30 that I once thought would be signal the end of my life through destiny.  A serious injury far, far way brought me close to death years earlier and another one close to home tried again.

On my 67th birthday, I also celebrate 20 years, six months and 11 days of sobriety — another contributor to a life that continues.

As written earlier this week, I love what I do, I’m comfortable with who I am and I am extremely fortunate to share that life with a good and caring woman who is wife, partner and best friend.

Our continued thanks to those who were there for Amy and I during my fight for life two years ago.  Our friends — old and new — meant so much to us during that time. It means more than we can ever adequately acknowledge with gratitude.

It’s been a hell of ride and we look forward for more fun and adventures in the future.