It happens to all of us. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. No one escapes it. I think about it a lot recently and wish I didn’t.
The first funeral I remember was that of my friend Zoe in 1991 when we were in high school. She had gone on a Girl Scout trip to Southern California. The bus she was on lost its breaks and fell into a ravine off the side of a mountain. She might have been carried up from the carnage by Sonny Bono that day, years before he was viciously attacked by a tree while skiing. A few people heard that a girl from Maine had died in the accident and thought it might be me because I’d applied to go on the trip as well. The funeral was closed casket. It is excruciatingly painful when the young die. Even more personally when it could have been me.
Bumpa, my maternal grandfather, passed away in 1998 after learning he had cancer. It was a rough summer. I’d had surgery and had to wear dresses for months. Meine Schwester had just gotten out of a cast and was learning she wasn’t invincible. Bumpa was our first direct family member to die. It was hard, but we had time to say goodbye. Meme has been alone for seventeen years. It was really hard on Great Grandmother who had seen her husband pass years early and then had to watch her only son go. She wasn’t particularly good at expressing herself.
Great Grandma left us in 2001. She was born in 1900. She lived a long, prosperous life. However, I was under the impression for 30 years that she would die at any minute. From the time when I could first remember things, Great Grandmother had said that this would be her last Christmas because she wouldn’t be around next year. When I’d stay over at her house, I would stay awake as long as I could, listening for her breathing to make sure she didn’t die on my watch.
Since then, I’ve lost my Uncle Chris and my Aunt Laura. Nana and Grump, my paternal grandparents both passed. While I was lucky enough to have four grandparents much longer than most of my friends, Meme is the only grandparent who remains. I call her every Sunday. I’m sorry I had to move so far away from home. It is hard on her. She is 91 now and has survived the deaths of most of her friends, her grandparents, parents, sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins. Outliving friends and family can be seriously traumatic.
Two years ago, I lost my dear friend, Houda to breast cancer. We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, we had the best conversations. I learned and grew so much just by knowing her. However, the moment that remains in mind was one where nothing was said. It was about a month before she passed. I was visiting in Morocco. After a fantastic meal, we adjourned to the bedroom for a nap. There were two twin beds, one on either side of the room. Before falling asleep, we laid there, speechless. Whenever I remember Houda, I remember the knowing look in her eyes. The pain, the love, and the acceptance. I hope some day to be as strong.
While I am the first to admit that pets are not humans and aren’t even close, I’ve had three living with me over the last seventeen years. Mitsy was the first to pass three years ago. She had survived six years of hyperthyroidism and a freak brain fungus. Her last few months, her heart was failing and she was on medication that made her feel young again. She had a heart attack in the middle of the night. The day before, she had been running around the house as if she were five years old instead of fifteen. She was happy.
Perl seems to be the next in line. She just turned 15 in August, but she has been going down hill fast. It started with her first “episode” in May where she passed out for half a minute and I thought it was the beginning of a seizure. After a lot of time and money with the vet, and a few more episodes, it seems that her little heart is failing too. She is now on heart meds which sometimes makes her feel much better than she is and she strains herself. But all I want is for her to die happy and quickly, like Mitsy did. So when she wanted to walk the mile to pizza tonight, we did. She gorged herself on ham and pepperoni. When we got home, she wanted to keep walking, so I let her. We walked about three miles today. It was a good day. Most days have not been good lately. Every time I wake, or walk through the door, I stop and stare to see if she is breathing. She has gone deaf, so she doesn’t hear me come home. And her breathing is shallow, so it is hard to tell. Then she pops up as if to say, “I’m not dead yet” and runs around the house.
It could be weeks, it could be months, it could be a year. It probably won’t be thirty years, but it will come. Death always does. All I ask is that it is relatively painless. That is all I wish for anyone, but it hasn’t always been the case. Death seems to torture some. It is cruel.
I joke that at seventeen years old, Pablo is going to live forever. He has really bad arthritis. He overcame diabetes and my accidental insulin overdose. But even he will succumb someday. Just like all of us. Death is inescapable.