I suppose the warning signs were there. Both my parents up until recently had 20-20 vision, but now dozens of eyeglasses litter their suburban Atlanta home. Their medicine cabinet that once held only Bayer aspirin and sticky red cough drops now is home to an avalanche of over-the-counter and prescription medicines. Mom has to repeat everything everyone says to Dad. And Dad, who used to scold us kids about the television being too loud, now blares it himself.

Dad's conversations now are limited to two topics: his golf game and his 401K savings, and he has developed a knack for coming up with ingenious ways to tie the two topics together. Mom's talks of late have centered on ailing family members and church folk who've gone on to be with the Lord.

Sometimes Mom and Dad talk of their arthritis pains, sit on the sofa and rub ointment on each other. Dad's knees. Mom's fingers.

And then there was that lone silver hair I found, not in my parents' heads, but in my own, an ugly, blatant reminder that none of us is getting any younger.

My parents turn 60 next spring, a season that normally sweeps me off my feet with fuschia azaleas and pink and white dogwoods. But even the beauty of blooming trees can't take that ever-present, nagging little question out of my head. How, and when, did my parents start their hike to old age? I don't consider 60 "old" but I felt a lot more comfortable when they were in their early 50s.

Both are slated to retire next year, Dad from Sears, Mom from my former high school. But Dad, a rightly professed workaholic, will probably start cutting hair at a barbershop he owns, taking out just enough time to squeeze in 18 holes at his favorite local golf course. Mom will probably do some shopping and home redecorating. Both will likely make several treks to Valdosta to visit me. Out of all the places I've lived, my parents like this city most.

I suppose what spurred these feelings was the recent passing of my aunt, Tillie. For the 28 years of my life, I had been spared losing a close relative. My grandparents died when I was too young to really remember. The only thing I've ever really loved and lost was my first dog, Pepper. And I mourned him for about a decade.

Tillie's funeral was last Saturday in Atlanta, and I drove up there for the weekend. She was 67, and that seems to be about the "going age" for many in my extended family. Tillie was a born-again Christian and that made her funeral, or as they called it "homegoing," not overly sad. Actually, it wasn't sad at all. But it did remind me that I won't have my parents forever. And that was a somber realization.

Tillie was overweight, as are many of the women in my extended family. She was about 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed around 240 pounds. After suffering heart pains two months ago, she was admitted to a downtown Atlanta hospital. Doctors said she needed a triple bypass, adding that the procedure was made more risky because of her obesity. She also had diabetes, and while in the hospital, learned she had developed blood clots in both legs and a serious lung infection. Tillie made it through the bypass surgery fine, but when doctors re-operated on her to repair the lung problem, she fell into a coma and was on life support for a week before the plug was pulled. She took her last breath with family all around her.

After that Mom, who is also a bit overweight, said she was going to try to cut down on her consumption of soft drinks, sweets and fried foods. I also said goodbye to my diet of frozen pizzas, chicken fingers and Blue Bell ice cream. My other aunts and my cousins -- some overweight, others not -- all took an oath of sorts to become more conscious of their diets. We we're angry. Not having the willpower to eat healthy had put my aunt in that hospital bed and ultimately took her life.

We were determined to have a different fate.

But after the funeral, we had about 80 family members and friends over to the house for fellowship and food. It was a nice gathering and there was food galore. Mom, Dad and I

watched young and old hoard greasy meals, courtesy of family and friends. They ate for hours it seemed. Then we watched as they toted bagloads of plates home with them. I cringe at how short-lived that oath to healthy eating was.

I cringe when I think the cycle of obesity and premature death might continue.

But Mom, Dad, I will pursue health so I can enjoy you two for as long as God allows. I only pray you keep your oath to do the same.

Katrina Parker heads the copy desk for The Valdosta Daily Times.

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