I consider myself a very fortunate person. I even call myself “lucky”. I am not terribly optimistic, but hell, I certainly can’t complain. This was the original impetus for this post, but I find I cannot go there without some background. It turns out that THIS post is not about being fortunate, although I promise, I am, and that will come next.
I am far more acquainted with death than I’d like to be. My first memory-registered death occurred sometime around the ages of 8 and 9. A girl of a similar age I’d made a brief acquaintance with while living with my aunt’s family in Vermont was there my first summer, and gone the next. It was all very hush-hush back in 1967, but I now think I understand that she died of child-hood leukemia.
My dad died when I was two weeks into my 14th year. For some reason, for many years I considered myself 13 years old when he died. A few years ago, I realized I had actually turned 14 some 15 days before he died on November 18th, 1972. So I was actually 14 at the time. Not important in the scheme of things, but it was a revelation to me after 35 years! He had been sickly with Type 1 diabetes and angina after his first heart attack 8 years earlier. He went into the hospital for what was NOT back then, “routine” open heart surgery. He came through the operation and they told us he’d be OK, and I did NOT go to the hospital to see him that night. He died the next morning. I was his only daughter among three brothers. Losing my dad at that precious age was extremely unfortunate. I didn’t go see him and I didn’t tell him I loved him before he died. The fact of what he must have faced going into the unknown operation at that time, and the fact that we did not speak of it beforehand, and the reality that I did not see him the last time that I might have, torture me to this day, 38 years later.
By the time I was 19, one of my best friends had died after a 3 year battle with cancer. She was ill for our junior and senior year of high school. We dedicated a page to her in our 1976 high school yearbook (the bicentennial year!), though she had not died yet. She lived with a tracheotomy and a wig for the last two years of her life, and I WAS there for her every day of that. I left her in August 1977 for an adventure at ASU, and she died in October. I was not there when she died, but I am pretty sure she knew that I loved her before I left.
My prom date committed suicide, and two other prominent young men in my high school life had died in stupid boy-shit accidents before I turned 20.
During my 20’s, both of my grandmothers died of reasonable old-age causes for their generations (both of my grandfathers were deceased before I was born). I was living in California in my bohemian years, and did not go home for either funeral. I have no reason to believe they knew I loved them. And I hate myself for not being there for my mother through that.
When I was 33 (1991), my mother did not wake up on Holy Saturday. She died in her sleep sometime on Good Friday night – Holy Saturday morning. I have not practiced Catholicism since I was 16 years old, and she was Protestant. Yet I derived a tiny bit of peace because she died on such a holy holiday. I flew home on Easter morning in abject tears and was afforded a row alone for my last minute flight and am eternally grateful for that. It seemed that the flight attendants knew this was an “hardship” seat and they were very kind. Or it might have been the non-stop tears pouring down my face. At least my mother knew I loved her when she died, as I took every opportunity to tell her that. I was not a good daughter in many ways, but she knew I loved her. What I didn’t know then was how much she loved me.
Christmas night 1999, when we were all freaked out about Y2K, I got word that one of my oldest and dearest friends had dropped dead of a heart attack while preparing the coffee-maker for the next morning. I was enroute home from the holiday with my cousins in Ft Worth and had my amour of the time from Australia with me. We were going back to Austin for a few days before flying into Colorado for New Year’s in the Rockies (Evergreen area, for those in the know). I spent the drive back on the cell phone re-routing us through Boston to Denver to attend my dearest friend’s funeral. That was a big mistake. I should have left the complainer behind in Austin to go home, and left out the Rockies trip altogether. I needed far more time at home to grieve with my friends than I allowed myself.
Since 1999, it has been fairly quiet. I have lost an elderly Aunt and my best Uncle, but these were “to be expected” somewhat.
Damn, I am a shit. I almost forgot about Sharon, who died a year ago, my closest friend from all the way back, lost to a deep drug addiction in our late-20s, who died last year. I posted about it then. I hadn't seen her in years, and I never stopped missing her. She died alone and without me, although she asked for me and awful relatives chose not to tell me. I know she didn't know I still loved her and I am still very angry about that.
At times, I feel inured to death. Certainly one reason I never had children was due to all of the grief I experienced at a young age. I knew that a child’s death would be unbearable. I also knew that it would hurt just as badly if it was ME who died and left them behind.
I am not sure why I am writing this now. Maybe it's because one of my clients lost his last grandmother last week and was shocked to find himself an "orphan" at age 40. While I offered sympathy, he demanded a count of my age at "orphanage" and my parents' ages and such. And I "won" as he put it..
So many are writing about death and I feel I should offer support. Heavens knows Ali's saga of her mother's death is special to me. She expresses so many feelings that I could never write so poignantly and she has helped me, all these years later.
Kathy's story has my teeth gritted for what may come next. LL2's loss is so difficult.
I could never, ever, know what it feels like to lose a child, and to those that have and write about it here, I honor your courage to go on.
To those who are losing or have lost a parent or grandparent or dear one, I always write, “they knew they were loved by you”. This is because it is the only solace I have for some of my losses, and it is my greatest regret for those I cannot say that about.
To those who are dealing with caring for parents in all manner of dementia, illness, or discomfort, I don’t know what to say. Sometimes I can be grateful that I will never deal with that, and sometimes I know every last minute will be worth it and I wish I’d had the opportunity. I honor you for what you are doing.
To those who have troubled relationships with parents or children, I wish you peace in whatever manner you can find it. But I would encourage you to love, because the loss will hurt no matter how bad it might seem on earth right now, and the loving will help in the end.
Next up, I will tell you why I am so fortunate, and how I got to be that way, I promise :-)