My uncle died last night. He was 63, which is quite young to die in our family and he’s the first of my parents’ generation to go on either side. He battled cancer off and on for five years and after a rough couple of months and real rough last week, he’s moved on to whatever is next, if anything.
I’m not going to tell a lot of stories about him, because while cathartic, you didn’t know him and that’s what wakes are for. His death, though, is just kind of reminding me of the entire aging process, getting older, things changing and sometimes it’s only in moments like this that you find the time to reflect.
My uncle had a great beard. It was full and thick, but he kept it well trimmed unlike how a lot of men prefer the scraggly look. In the winter, I usually grow a beard, shave once because it gets too long, regrow it and lose it for good in the spring. With the latest incarnation of my beard, I’ve noticed there is gray sneaking into it.
Yes, I have friends younger than me with heads full of gray hair, but based on that spot on the top of my head and the V shape that starts to subtly form in the front, I always thought that I’d be bald and not gray. Most people with reddish hair usually don’t go gray. I’m not sure if I like gray hair better than being bald. I guess it’s just part of aging.
On February 8, I’ll turn 44. Do I think that’s old? Not really, although I certainly used to. I also used to think college students looked a lot older than they do and people who were 65 or 70 were ancient. A lot changes about your perception as you move into middle age. The idea that statistics suggest I’m now well past the halfway point in my life (76 is average as of last year for a male in the US) kind of blows my mind. I feel like I only finally pulled my stuff together in the last few years and really would like to reset things to my late 20s.
I haven’t started watching a new TV show in years. Since radio is so dull and formatted these days, I have no idea where people are getting their new music. Tik Tok and Snapchat seem pointless to me and I don’t think I’ll ever have a Twitter or Instagram. I’ve mostly stopped using streaming services and I’m completely content to watch two hours of Everybody Loves Raymond at night and play games on my phone. I could fight to stay connected to youth culture, or even mainstream culture, but why?
I’m not going to say that older people are irrelevant, but when it comes to pop culture and entertainment trends we really are. Take for instance TV ratings. On Friday, January 24, 2020 the most watched TV shows were Hawaii 5-0, Magnum PI and Blue Bloods on CBS – and they were all repeats. Between 4.9 million and 5.3 million tuned in to watch those shows. Yet despite nearly doubling the closest competition, ABC’s family sitcoms and 20/20, the network that made the most money was Fox, showing WWE Friday Night Smackdown.
Why was the network that came in third in overall viewers the one that profited the most? Because more people in the 18-49 age group watched wrestling than watched the other shows. A 30-year-old watching wrestling is a more attractive viewer than three 60-year-olds. They historically have higher disposable income than the older viewer and are not set in their purchasing ways like people twice their age are loyal to brands.
I understand it. When I go to a place like Applebee’s or Olive Garden, I get the same thing I’ve been ordering the last 7-10 years. It’s more important to me to know I’ll like something than try something new. Clearly my personal taste with TV is the same, even if I’m still technically a target viewer for a few more years.
For the first time ever, I’ve made some phone calls involving a family member’s death, helping to coordinate things. I’ve been more involved in planning and have been let in on other’s plans, including stuff like DNR orders, wills, last wishes, etc., than ever before. In some ways it makes me feel like a grown-up, but in other ways it makes me feel a burden of responsibility that is fresh. I have no time for silly new phone apps if I have to step-up and be the mature one, or at least that’s kind of how it feels.
Over the next few days, leading up to his wake, I’ll have to practice my fake nodding and ability to hear things like, “He’s in a better place” or “He looks peaceful” without throwing up all over whatever shirt I buy at TJ Maxx for the event. A great thing of working at home is you only need a lot of pajamas, but the side effect is when you have to be in public, your wardrobe dwindles over the years.
I guess placating others in an environment that makes my skin crawl, around people who make stuff up instead of saying, “I have no idea what to say. This sucks” is all part of growing up. Maybe at nearly 44, it’s time.