Expiration Dates

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 Expiration dates, we all have them in our DNA. But Best Used or Enjoyed By MM/DD/YYYY aren’t stamped on our neck, back or elsewhere to be read in the mirror. 

Before selling our house in Sacramento last summer, we purged a lot of stuff that we stored behind all the doors of closets and garage cabinets. You know, that stuff you just know you’re going to need the day after you throw it away. Odd screws, nuts and bolts; camping equipment unused for a decade; stupid award memorabilia you only see when you get the urge to clean out the garage but you don’t have the heart to throw away. It’s as if you are throwing away a memory.

Moving helps cut to the chase. If you don’t sell it or throw it away, you’re packing it,  moving it, unpacking it and re-storing it at your new location. But the easily packed stuff still finds its way onto the moving truck, and the boxes get stacked in the garage or the “guest room”. The final decision to throw out or pass on to others is postponed. Old photos - even the really bad, out-of-focus ones, family ‘history’, stuff that really has no intrinsic value unto itself other than sentiment. It’s a by-product of having been raised by depression-era parents. 

The idea for this post came from my running across my parents’ last drivers licenses and seeing the “Expires on Birthday” part. They both expired before their respective licenses, which is normal, when you think about it. 

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In my fathers case, his last license was issued shortly before his birthday in 1978 when he was just 56 and it was set to expire in 1982 when he would be 60. 

Now, no one likes their picture produced by the DMV, but as I looked at my father’s image with 20/20 hindsight, I know that colon cancer had him in its sights. He looked worn down. A lot of life had happened to him by then: WW II and marriage to my mother; college with one and then two kids; a move across the country away from his boyhood home and family; a series of drafting/illustration jobs in the aerospace industry and then; the long, slow grind-down of a creative person working in State government.

I have to believe that if he’d been open to something like a meditation and yoga practice, and the cancer screening available today had been available then, he’d have lived to see his granddaughter. And possibly his great-grandson. Maybe. Just maybe.

I had other reflections on those dates. In 1978, I was still in college, a little under a year away from graduation. The extended undergrad plan...no job prospects on the horizon, just living college life, my sights set firmly on myself.

I remember visiting my parents during college and watching Dad fall asleep in his recliner, wondering how much longer he would live and how it would be when he was no longer around. I had no clue then, none of us did, that his cancer had started. Dad looked much too old and tired for someone that young.  

At the time, I had no inkling of what life changing events would come my way in the next short four years: I’d move away to Los Angeles, get engaged, marry, lose my job and my father to colon cancer a month later; and return to Sacramento.

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Mum’s last license was issued at the end of the last century,  which sounds so, so long ago. It was 1999.  By then, she had been the Widow Webster for 17 years and was 75 years old in her photo.

During those 17 years, I became a father, bought and sold a couple houses, divorced, changed jobs, remarried; and helped Mum to downsize her life.

Mum had a couple of boy friends during that period, but in her heart, I knew she was still married to Dad. She continued to wear her engagement and wedding rings. I’m not sure if it was habit, loyalty or because he was the longest relationship of her life. The romantic in me wants to believe that deep down, she was still in love with with him. Or she thought it gave her a direct channel to him when complaining about my sister and I at his gravesite...I hope it was the former rather than the latter. She did the latter anyway. Weekly.

 Oddly enough, I never wondered what it would be like when she was no longer around. Three short (retrospectively) years later Mum was gone too. Buried in the same plot as Dad. He was cremated,  and, since she “...didn’t like the idea of being burned...”, as in life, she got top billing, being laid to rest over Dad.

What started my musing on this was seeing the issue and expiration dates, the pictures of my parents on their respective licenses, and how we all have these forms of identification. They have issue dates and expiration dates. Most of the time all we think of is the hassle of obtaining these necessary pieces of plastic that fill our wallets. And how long (or short) a period it will be before we have to again go through the hassle of renewing them.

Maybe we should think about, and document, the Life and Events that happen during that period. And, like Carrie Bradshaw in a closing scene of “Sex In the City”, ask ourselves: “Is this the last time I will be go through this sucky process?” “Will My expiration date be sooner than is stamped on this document?”

If we ask ourselves those questions, scary and morbid as they sound, we will appreciate WHAT we have, WHEN we have it. And live like we may not sooner than later.