This may seem like a silly question, but have you ever stopped to realize the dramatic effect that death has on life?
I’m not s
peaking about the impact of one’s own death, but rather about the changes experienced in one’s life resulting from the death of a family or friend. When my grandparents died, at various stages of my life, the dramatic change I realized was that my parents were not invincible. I saw two people who were very emotionally strong and stable weakened by their grief. Oh, they regained their composure and went about their daily lives, but I detected a change in them. I did not fully identify that change until I experienced my father’s passing.
Dad was 81 when he died, and while I miss him daily and would love to have him with me again (if he could be here in good health), I am glad that he missed some of the terrible events this world has experienced in the 15 years since his death. And now, I have experienced the change I noticed in my parents after my grandparents’ deaths. It is the knowledge that you are at the top of the “family pyramid.”
The oldest living generation of any family has the duty of passing along the family’s collective experience and history to the next generations. My parents were realizing that they and their siblings were the oldest living members of the family and shared the task of imparting that heritage to their offspring. When my father died, I finished growing up – it had taken me 40 years. I became one of three adult daughters who care for and protect the interests of my mother. While she lives with one of my sisters 70 miles away, I will gladly drive there and deal harshly with any living being who threatens her safety and happiness.
It’s not just family deaths that have sharp impacts. When a lifelong friend is suddenly no longer out there in the world living his or her life, there’s a hole torn in the fabric of one’s life, even if the contacts with that friend were infrequent. The tear is eventually sewn together, but the fabric is never quite the same and there’s that “scar” that will always remain. And when the friend is your age, there is that reality that, if he or she can die at this stage of life, you can as well. Most people adapt to this new knowledge, although we all process grief and loss in ways unique to our personalities and experiences.
Mom and one of her older sisters are the last living members of the generation which preceded mine. I realize daily that my sisters and I and our cousins will be at the top of that family pyramid. It’s a confirmation of the unstoppable nature of time and the inescapable reality of life and death. I hope that Mom has several more years of relative good health and contentment, and that I have that time to learn everything I need to know. Somehow, I don’t think I will ever reach that point.