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The terrors of the 57 syndrome

Date

Jenna Price

I’m not a particularly superstitious person, not prone to little acts of luck.

Although, it’s true, I crush the eggshells as soon as I’ve emptied the egg, crush the shells into tiny little fragments so the witches don’t write my name on them.

I’m not entirely sure what would happen to me if the witches did manage to inscribe my name – except that according to my aged mum, I needed to prevent that happening at all cost.

Mum wasn’t all that aged when she died. Just 63. A long battle with the effects of living in a displaced person camp, a terrible smoker, a diabetic, she died just four months after my wedding. She was very keen to see me settled before the cancer finally took her.

The age of 63 looks pretty good in my family. Dad died at 57. My sister Betty died at 57.

My brother and I are alive and kicking but I turned 57 a couple of months ago. This is not good. I mean, getting to 57 is excellent but every single ache and wheeze is suddenly a reason for me to think the end is nigh. Talk about being wimpy. My beloved says he thinks I’ve beaten my genetic legacy – and he knows that the prospect of him spending my superannuation on a second wife has kept me at the gym and off the chocolates. I feel quite sorry for my GP, Dr Pandora, who has had to deal with what I’m now calling 57 syndrome.

My mother-in-law is 91 and an Amazon; and I hope to get to her age, or close. After all, my life expectancy is nearly 90.

My friend Julie Watt should have reached 90 too. She would have made the most outrageous old woman, with strong opinions and a strong mind.

But she died on Saturday, just three months past her 60th birthday. She had a wonderful party to celebrate; and maybe it was also her way of saying goodbye.

She worked at the Canberra Times in the job of what used to be called secretary to various editors. I had a secret name for her that I never told her when she was alive and now it’s too late. I know she would have been amused.

 Julie was never ever anyone’s secretary. That title still has the '50s connotation of being someone’s handmaiden, someone to take notes and be invisible.

Julie was never invisible and never unnecessarily silent.

I called her The Fixer. She was the kind of person who would organise you when you didn’t even realise you needed organising; the kind of person who could summon you into a good mood without you even realising. I read this week that Facebook had experimented with putting good news and bad news in your news feeds to see what impact that had on your mood – Julie always worked for good, for cheer, for companionship. She had the best laugh.

Julie was also the person who could mend boss-employee relationships. If you were in a spot of bother, Jools would be the one who could negotiate your way back into the good books. That was bloody useful for someone like me.

In 2007, she was the first colleague I rang when my sister died unexpectedly. I was a sobbing wreck and she took charge, told everyone else in the office, dealt with my leave; and I’m confident it was Julie who organised for the fragrant flowers that arrived in my home a few hours later, the only thing to make me smile for days. Smiles and more tears.

She would ring me every little while to see how I was going and steered me back to work. I didn’t know she was sick herself; and she didn’t tell me, or anyone, for weeks.

It turned out that she would have to have an operation that would make it nearly impossible for her to speak – at least for a while. We all decided we’d buy her a laptop to take with her to hospital. Soon we had generated a snowstorm of emails. The best computer. The most reliable. Ways to deliver internet to hospitals (remember this was seven years ago). It turned out to be the most over\subscribed gift I’ve ever had anything to do with.

Everyone loved her and now she is gone.

But one of her legacies is her wonderful adult son. She and I would talk about how we worried about our kids – and we’d compete about who had the most reason to worry. Seven years on, her boy is proof that we all worry unnecessarily about our children.

Jools, 60 is too soon, but you’ve left your mark behind. You’ve done more in that time than most of us will do in 90.

Thanks for covering for me so many times. You are a legend. Today and always.

Love your friends. And tell them your ridiculous but loving names for them before it’s too late.

 Twitter @jennaprice or email jenna_p@bigpond.net.au

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