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Senior Momentum November 2014 - The Top of the Heap


Senior Momentum November 2014 - The Top of the Heap

by Zoe Tummillo

Sooner or later some of us get to the top of the heap. (The one in the family circle!) Someone moves along, the eldest dear one dies and there you are: at the top! It slowly sinks in and swirls around among a collection of mixed feelings. It’s a dubious honor and, surely, reason for reflection.

Well, my sister and I have arrived!  She is there, and I am the close second. We laughed and reminisced about it one day when the stories were flowing, and the air was charged with memories and speculations.   Hey! The “eldest” are ... us!

We don’t talk in codes like “passed away” or “gone.” Died, death and dead are comfortable enough words. I noticed that, like me, she sees death as just another part of the journey –sometimes a welcome and freeing event, sometimes a trial, sometimes a soft and unexpected passage and sometimes a shock. We’ve both been beside many.

One’s point of view changes a bit, when the top-of-the-heap is within sight!   There is no guarantee that achieving that prestigious rank automatically means that you are on the fast track out! It just gets your attention in its own special way. When I was very young, the old folks seemed really old! Yet, I am way older than some of my elders were when they died. And besides that, I don’t feel really old in the way I thought they were old, even when they weren’t. Yet.  

It’s tricky, this perception thing. It can take your assumptive world and toss it out of kilter in a second. Being at the top-of-the-heap kind of implies that you’re next, but if you start to live in that implication, you risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy! Oh, no!

There is something about autumn that kicks in heavy-duty remembering. Some is triggered by signs of the coming holidays, the sounds and colors, and how people’s attitudes begin to shift. A mood drops over me and leads to thoughts of family far away. The snapshots in my mind crowd up and beg to be hung out where they can be seen like ornaments on a tree. The chilly air kicks in a few more images of snowstorms and bells and wreaths and icicles and Mother’s house and Dad’s den and Boston.  

In those pictures our elders are the anchors. We were the babies, the kids.  Now here we are, at the top of the heap, pushing our 80’s over the horizon!  It’s sis and I looking out and over, and the view is pretty good up here! So many things are clearer! So many 2+2’s have gone together and make much better sense than they did twenty or forty or seventy years ago!

There’s something special in the air; there’s a new chord, a simple harmony – a vibe! Everything seems to be in sharper focus, which seems odd, since I now need two pair of glasses, one with bifocals... I actually never thought about being the eldest of the family until I got this close, and now it feels like something very special that carries with it some new responsibilities! (Great. Just when my joints have become temperamental, my energy is iffy, and all I want to do is garden, read, write and fool around.)

It’s a new role and perhaps I’ll just have to take my cue from hindsight and listen a bit closer to those old voices; get some pointers from retrospect.  On the other hand, this may be another one of those paths you can only learn by traveling it -- you know, like love or marriage or childbirth or parenting or swimming or coping... or grieving.  

 (Surely topping the heap has got to be easier than those?)


Zoë Tummillo is a Business & Marketing Consultant, Trainer, Commercial Writer, dba COMMUNICATION CONCEPTS, in private practice since 1974.   In addition to Commercial work, she writes “Senior Momentum:  A Series of Situations”; “Pieces of My Path”©. essay memoirs of growing up first generation Italian American; and Senior Momentum:  Front And Center!©. To contact her: email: