I made a big mistake — HUGE.

A couple of weeks ago, I rounded up our kids from Colorado and Wisconsin, and we all decided to drive to Michigan to spend time with my wife’s mother who is battling stage-4 cancer. I wasn’t going to fly everyone there because it would have cost me almost $5,000. We decided to drive from southern Florida— almost 3,000 miles, round trip.

When we lived in Colorado for 21 years, I had made the drive to Michigan so many times that I had lost count. I have always enjoyed making that drive and figured this one would be no different. Sure, it is a couple hundred more miles from southern Florida, but driving allows me time to reflect when I don’t feel like I get to do that at any other time, due to having so many things that need to be done each day. Basically, life happens, and when I’m on the road, there is no work, no meal prep, no real deadlines of any kind. My mind wanders and I get to just think — especially while driving at night when there is little traffic and few distractions. The trip there was uneventful and quite relaxing. I rather enjoyed it.

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Though the trip was enjoyable and we were able to spend quality time with family, death and loss became a focal point and it had nothing really to do, directly, with my wife’s mother. A close friend of ours had just had his father’s memorial a day or two prior to us arriving.

On the trip back home to Florida, we received the news that a long-time friend of mine, who had been diagnosed with cancer in December (and just turned 48) had passed away in the middle of the night. As if this wasn’t horrible enough, another long-time friend from school had posted that his mother also had passed, only a day after we arrived back home in Florida.

When I was younger, death was shitty. However, it seemed distant; it didn’t seem to touch me or impact me as much, with the exception of the loss of my sister and the loss of my nephew. I have been fortunate to never have buried a child, a parent, or my wife. As I close in on turning 50 this next March, I admit that death has had a much more profound impact on me, to the point of almost making me dwell on it. When you are driving and there is really nothing you are focused on, it can become overwhelming. Like most men, I admit to not wanting to use the word “depressing.” The truth is, though, I was finding myself getting quite depressed and the trip home ended up being longer than I wanted it to be.

If you are in your 20s or 30s, you likely cannot relate. You probably don’t think much about death or give much thought to getting older and that your days are numbered; I know I didn’t. Closing in on 50, I find myself giving more thought — maybe too much thought — to it. I am quite sure that if any of you reading this are my age (or older), you have had similar thoughts.

I wake up every morning not feeling my age. I don’t get dressed and sigh about aches and pains or struggle to get out of bed. I don’t limp when I walk, though I have had back pain from training for quite a few years that has subsided, and I haven’t dealt with back pain for over four years. Plus, my back pain was not from “being old” as much as it was from years of training and not taking the precautions that I should have been taking.

I don’t go to the gym, look in the mirror, and see an old version of myself that used to be so much bigger, stronger, or more ripped. I am arguably in the best shape of my life, and I understand that a lot of old guys say this and everyone else agrees with them, but they know better and are just being nice instead of saying, “Yeah, whatever; you’re old as fuck, bro, and you are a fraction of what you used to be.”

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I am just as immature when my wife bends over in front of me; I still text inappropriate comments to my wife at work; I have a section of my iPhone camera roll that when I send pics to my kids, I have to make DAMN SURE I don’t send the wrong pic; and I still try to get my drunk wife naked in the backseat of our car. Why? Because no cop in their right mind would ever arrest a couple in their late 40s, after being married for 26 years, getting caught having sex. It’s like an unwritten cop rule or something.

My point?

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I’m not old. I don’t feel old. I admit that I look old… from the neck up (OK, maybe my balls, too, but that’s it). I don’t think I act old unless some 25-year-old says something fucking stupid, and then I suppose I might roll my eyes. Still, I don’t feel 50. In fact, I don’t feel any older than I did when I was in my 30s. But, damn it, if people aren’t dying around me… and I know them. They are friends of mine. They are prep guys that are younger than I am and close friends that are my age or even younger. If they are older, they aren’t much older. It’s. Fucking. Depressing.

It took me a few days of wallowing in my own self-pity to get back into my routine when I got home. I struggled with my own mortality. I asked myself if I was going to be that guy who gets the news next month that I have cancer and then it’s me who doesn’t make it even one more year. Or worse yet, I get the news I have cancer and I live for another eight years only to end up a shell of myself, hating life, and wishing I would just die. With all of this reflection going on and driving myself to a state of depression, I figured I better get my head straight and do what most people my age do: bury myself in life and forget about it.

Sitting here thinking about how bad things could be isn’t a great way to live. It certainly isn’t positive, and I found it was eating me up and creating incredibly negative thoughts that were not just impacting me but the people around me as well. My wife is worried about her mother, and here I am whining that I am going to die one day while I have this great life, great family, great wife, and I am healthy (as far as I know). I control the things I have control over and the rest is really out of my hands.

I will never make the mistake to drive 3k miles again. That is the one thing I am too old to do. I don’t want to think that much because I tend to overthink everything. I’m going to die one day; there is no denying that. Until then, I’m living. I might as well enjoy the time I have. I may have a long time in front of me or I may have a week. Dwelling on it isn’t going to change the outcome. Just Sayin’.

Dango Nguyen

In Memory of Dango.

“…But still, the place you live in is that much more gray and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

— Shawshank Redemption

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