Growing Up and Growing Old
By: Shannon Ralph
Things are changing. And I do not like it. My uncle Chris —my mother’s brother— was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It is not good.
I am afraid for my uncle. I love him dearly and do not want him to feel pain or know fear. I am afraid for his wife who I adore. I can’t imagine what I would do if it were my partner, Ruanita, who was sick. I am afraid for his two children. They are grown, but even college kids need their daddy. I am afraid for my mother and my ten other aunts and uncles who have been untouched my loss amongst them. I am afraid of living in a world where people are struck down willy-nilly in the prime of their lives. Mostly —and most selfishly— I am afraid for myself.
My dad died when I was eleven years old, so I am no stranger to the fact that people die. It happens. People get sick and they die. Every day. Every minute. Regardless, I have always thought of my mom and her eleven siblings as invincible. Somehow untouchable. Frozen forever in my mind as they were when I was a child. Brazen twenty-somethings splashing around in the water at Miller’s Lake. Playing cards and drinking beer. Tossing a football around at Legion Park. Idiots laughing at all of the family’s inside jokes. Forever young. Forever healthy.
Today, that facade is being lifted. Reality is setting in. My aunts and uncles are not the twenty-somethings I remember from my youth. They have become older and wiser and, in some instances, frailer. My heroes are aging. My protectors and biggest fans are not as strong as I once knew them to be. And it scares me. What does it mean for me? For my generation? For my brother and sisters? For my cousins? I am almost forty years old and have children of my own, but I don’t know that I have truly felt like a “grown-up” until this day. Adulthood is upon me.
I must say that I am not a fan.