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HOOSER: A birthday rumination

Turning 69 years old on Thursday, Jan. 19 was an exhilarating day for me, and I thank all who helped make it so.

It started with early morning texts from my children and a heartwarming video message from my grandchildren. A friend then set the stage further, sending me this note:

“Youthfulness is not determined by age. It is determined by one’s life force. One who possesses hope is forever young. One who continually advances is forever beautiful. May all your dreams and wishes come true for life.”

The rest of my day only got better. Uplifting message after uplifting message, some warmed my soul, others made me laugh out loud, and still others made me cry in a good way — all provided fuel to my fire to do more and be better.

You can be sure my mother, who will be 91 this year, read every single one of them. She in turn wrote and posted a thoughtful birthday missive to her son as well.

I slept well that night.

The following morning my life was shaken by a confrontation with the realities of getting old.

I set out early on Friday determined to visit two dear friends, whom I had not seen in years. I’d been told both were in ill health and in long-term care facilities — one in Waimea and the other at Wilcox.

Both I considered family, both had helped me plenty over the years, and both were just incredible human beings.

I stopped at Wilcox first, went up to the third floor, signed in, and was escorted by a nurse to my friend’s room. Another visitor was there sitting quietly by the bed, I said hello and greeted my old friend, who was stretched out and seemingly watching television.

He turned his head slightly toward me. I said hello a bit more loudly again, repeated my name, and sang a short tune we had shared in years gone by. There may or may not have been a twinge or twinkle of recognition. I hesitated for a moment, told him clearly that I loved him, asked the other visitor to give my love to the family, and slipped quietly out of the room.

It was a long, sad drive to Waimea.

The initial routine there was similar. I signed in, went through COVID screening, and was greeted by a nurse who asked who I was visiting. When I spoke my friend’s name, the nurse looked up and said “She’s not here.” For a moment, I was confused and said, “Did she go home? Did she move to another facility?” The nurse shook her head slowly and called over another nurse, who explained to me very gently that my friend had passed away.

I barely remember my drive back home. I texted Claudette, that “I’d waited too long.” She replied with love, telling me “Don’t beat yourself up, you tried.”

My friend and former colleague state Sen. Ron Menor, just 67, had passed away the preceding Monday.

Every day, it seems, another familiar name passes.

My mother, a strong Christian woman, is 90, and while moving a little slow, walks unassisted, still cooks her favorite desserts, and helps around the house. My natural father, a career Navy man, died at the age of 57 — essentially from a diet of cigarettes, alcohol and black coffee.

I’m 69. My health is generally good and I like to think I’m a long way from moving on.

This week definitely has shaken me.

The outpouring of support and love offered by so many on Thursday lit my fire and reengaged my commitment — to both family and community.

The wake-up call that came on Friday was both sad and enlightening.

I’m reminded that life is a precious gift that will ultimately end, so we must use our time here wisely and with purpose. I’m also reminded that we must not get so wrapped up in doing life, that we neglect our friends and family. So, please, don’t wait another day. Tell them now how much you love and appreciate them.

Mahalo to all for allowing me to share a part of my own life journey.

•••

Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.
Source: The Garden Island

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