By Dennis Stamper
Dennis Stamper is a Commissioned Lay Pastor and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He has worked as a hospital chaplain for the past 17 years. Dennis has attended both the Choosing Conscious Eldering and Next Steps Retreats.
Several years ago, three significant events occurred in my life that would propel me on a journey, a journey that would ultimately change how I see and how I live my life.
The first event was a sudden and very serious heart attack for which I, like most people, was totally unprepared. I had always been in excellent health. But suddenly one day without warning here I was speeding down the highway in the back of an ambulance with a complete blockage of a major artery in my heart. Not only was I facing my own mortality, the reality that I would someday die but I knew that in that very moment, I WAS dying. The only question was whether or not they would be able to open the blockage in time to prevent what would otherwise be inevitable.
I was told that the doctors would first attempt to open the artery through a cardiac catheterization and stent but if that did not work they would need to “crack my chest” (which is the most unpleasant sounding phrase in the English language) and do emergency coronary bypass surgery (the second most unpleasant sounding phrase). Spoiler alert, I made it. The stent worked but never the less, that my friend will get your attention.
The second event to occur was my 65th birthday. I had a Medicare card in my wallet. I was now receiving the senior discount at the movies without even asking. I was now wearing glasses AND hearing aids. Although thoughts of retirement had been rattling around in my head for the past few years it was always about when I might stop working. Now the question became more complicated. The question was no longer just when I might stop doing what I was doing but also what was I going to do next. What was I going to do with the rest of my life after that?
The third event that happened was that I woke up one day older than my father (or at least older than he was when he died). It felt strange. I was in my 30s when my dad died and from that vantage point, he seemed old to me, old enough to die at least. Also, I had always felt that in some sense I was following in my father’s footsteps through life but now the footprints had disappeared. I was walking further down the road now than he had ever walked. I had a growing and unavoidable realization; I’m old!