All say, “How hard it is that we have to die” – a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live. ~Mark Twain
One of the hardest lessons we learn as children is when we are introduced to the concept of mortality. Sometimes it is a pet, sometimes an older relative, sometimes someone we are close to. A grandparent, maybe. But most of us are introduced to it at an age where it is merely a concept, in many ways what higher science becomes to most people, you understand the basic idea, but the actual meaning of it is lost to you.
My earliest recollection was a vague recollection of being told my great-grandmother had died. I was maybe three or four years old, and the total of the memory was that we wouldn’t see her at Christmas anymore. A couple of years later, I found my kitten, cleverly named “Baby Kitty”, in the backyard, and after an investigation my mother told me she probably fell out of the big tree I found her under. I do remember crying about that, but that’s about all.
As I grew older, the family cat (and Baby Kitty’s mother) died at age 14 when I was 11 or so, my dog died when I was 15, at nearly the same age, and these deaths really affected me. I remember coming downstairs and stroking my dog’s fur, saying goodbye to my best friend and constant companion growing up as the Oscars were being awarded on the TV in the next room. Even now, thinking about it decades later, I still tear up a little bit, and whenever the Oscars are on, I think back to that evening.
I was lucky, though. I did not lose any people that were close to me until I was well into my teens, when my paternal grandfather passed away my senior year. The next three years, well, let’s just say it was a crash course as several of my older relatives on my dad’s side all reached that age together and it felt like every couple of months was another funeral.
As I have gone through life since, I have lost friends, relatives, people I have loved, and people who have meant more to me than I truly realized. Just a few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away at age 91, and I’m still somewhere in the middle stages of dealing with it. But really, I cannot complain, she lived an amazingly full life, and got to know her five great-grandchildren and took great joy from them, and her life in general. I was so fortunate to have had both of my grandparents until my thirties, and my grandmother until I was 42, and I am fully aware of how rare that really is.
Tonight, I visited my great-uncle Paul, who has been ill for some time now, and is in the hospital after having a heart attack. To be frank and blunt, he does not have much time left, but tonight in his room were four of his sons, three of his grandchildren, two of his daughters-in-law, myself, my aunt, and my uncle who is also Paul’s godson. We sat in his room, visiting with him when he was awake, telling stories, jokes, and reminiscing about times past, much like we did at my grandmother’s house the night she died.
As I drove home tonight, I thought about all of this, and pondered how very Irish this was of us. There’s an appreciation for a life well-lived, and for what the generation before us gave us. A bonding and a sharing of comfort during a sad and stressful time, as well as a reflection on your own life and how the person who you no longer have in the circle with you has affected you. And then it really hit me.
I’m 42 years old, have a family of my own, a career, and supposedly a smart guy. But after all this time since I was told about my great-grandmother, since I buried pets, relatives, and friends, I realized that I still don’t fully grasp the entirety of death. Some day there will hopefully be a group of my loved ones sitting around my hospital room, sharing stories and telling jokes as I approach my threshold on that journey at the tender age of 135, and I am willing to bet that even then I won’t have my brain wrapped around it.
This a bit heavier than I had intended for my second post on this site, I was originally mulling over a bit about the Occupy Wall Street events from last night, and complaining that the guy with the guitar at Occupy Boston should not be trying to sing House Of The Rising Sun with rewritten lyrics and somehow managing to have three different keys in there, none of which are the same key being played on the guitar, and even that is not the key the song is supposed to be in. But that seemed so petty in light of how my day turned out, and how hard it is for my cousins, whose mother suffered with Alzheimer’s for many years before passing away last summer, and is now watching their father in a hospital bed, returning to him a tiny fraction of the love and comfort that he and his wife gave to them growing up.
In any case, I lost the urge to bitch about politics and stuff, and instead just decided to reflect a bit on this journey every single one of us will take one day, and how really lucky I am to have the family I do. I also came to the conclusion that working for an effort like OWS, political campaigns, social groups, or even just the company you are employed by seems so important, and sometimes is, but it just pales in comparison to being a part of and really appreciating a great family and circle of friends.
Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life! ~Albert Einstein