There was a time when it seemed like everyone that I knew was dying. Probably 15 to 20 years ago, I would panic and cringe every time I heard my home phone ring. I would know well or at least recognize at least one guy every time I looked at the obituaries. The face of AIDS was nearly always the same: the smiling handsome face of a thirty or forty something who leaves behind his mother and his father, his sisters and his brothers, with no mention of wife or kids, let alone partner or lover or significant other. In lieu of flowers, donations could be made to anything BUT an AIDS organization. Writers of these cryptic obituaries had no clue that they were making the cause of death so damn obvious.
To this day I still glance through the obituaries whenever I happen to read the printed version of a local newspaper, searching for a friend or foe. Thankfully, those sightings are few and far between, and I am so very grateful for that. Someone as young as I was back then should never have had to endure over and over again the sadness and the pain of the death of a friend. It has left me with wounds that have only slowly healed over time.
Flash forward to present time, 2014, and now I’m a 52-year old man with three young kids and a husband who is (thankfully) 10 ½ years younger than I am. We have four ageing parents between us, all of who are rushing toward their 80th birthdays, and all of who have their own list of ailments and disabilities. The inevitability of the situation is horrifying, to say the least. It seems like only yesterday when we each suffered through the death of our respective grandparents, and not a day (or two) goes by when I don’t at least think of them, if not long for them. I’m in no hurry to go through that loss again, especially with my parents.
It’s a morbid thought, but death has started to rear its ugly head all around me. I’m stuck in a battlefield now that I’m over 50, and some grenades are landing and exploding in the distance, some are close to me, and without a doubt someday one will land directly on top of me. The distant ones are just constant reminders of the danger. Like when you get the Breaking News email about this actress dying or that singer dying. It announces their age and the cause of death, and you immediately figure out the difference in years between the deceased (them) and the living (you). Unfortunately, that difference in years is getting smaller and smaller.
In the distance are also family members (mostly parents, uncles, etc.) of peers. At my age it seems like many friends are either traveling to a funeral or returning from one. I try to be supportive, partly because I know that I’m going to need their support when the grenade hits closer to home, and partly because I’m afraid and sorry.
Other reminders of the doom are just the near-death experiences as well as the signs of the fragility of health. At this precise moment between the two of us, one of us has a parent in the hospital. One has a cousin in the hospital whose water broke too early in her pregnancy. One of us has a brother with newly diagnosed cancer. One of us has sleep apnea (not really life-threatening but it makes me snore really loud.) The point is that it’s a constant barrage of bad health news that only seems to be intensifying, and I don’t like it. I want it all to stop, but it can’t.
Inescapably, my mind turns finally to my young children. I’d take the grenade for any one of them. In fact, I’d hold it in my mouth if it meant keeping them out of harm’s way. I remember the serious fever my firstborn son had in the first month of his tiny life, and how I begged, I prayed, I wished that no matter what, I would leave this earth before he would. Do not make me suffer through the loss of my children or my husband. I’m sure they’ll all be just fine once I kick the bucket, but if any of them go first, I can’t imagine that I’d ever be the same person.
My sons have started asking me how old I will be when they are my age, because they want to go swimming together and be able to race me across the pool. I matter-of-factly and with a straight face give them the answer (98), but I add that beating me in a race will be the least of their worries. But for now, my sons, just enjoy learning to read and learning to swim. Leave the worrying to Daddy.