We write a lot on the blog about aging.
These posts concern issues about looks and self-esteem. And while it’s true that aspect of aging is tough, it’s not the toughest thing. It’s also hard having new aches and pains and not being able to do some of the things you used to do in your youth. Me, I’m also having a hard time recognizing that there are now some things I’ll never get to do. Not at all doors remain open. Hard stuff.
But the toughest thing isn’t any of this really. It’s coping with death. Remaining emotionally well as one makes one’s way through life means making peace somehow with death and loss.
When my first friends died I was young. They were young. Men in their forties. One died of H1N1. (Remember that?) The other of a heart attack. Goodbye Steve, goodbye Randy.
Both deaths were awful, tragic, but they felt like a fluke. Death still felt like something far away. I mean, something awful happened to these friends (yes, I think death is bad for the person whose death it is) but it seemed so distant and unlikely. Death wasn’t yet a normal part of my life.
My sister, Sarah, also died in 2009 at the age of 41, after decades of struggle with depression and mental illness. Death seemed closer then. More real.
Then more friends from high school started to die, men in their early fifties. One died of ALS. The other, a high school boyfriend and a sweet, gentle man dedicated to his family, died of cancer. Goodbye Justin, goodbye Kevin.
And yes we all die but these deaths seemed early. They were people in the middle of things, on whom others depended.
Two members of my feminist book group died.
And so many parents, Avis (see On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis), Tom (On “special weather,” bike commuting, and missing certain people) and my father. Of course, friends of my parents have been dying too.
Now this year it seems it’s the mothers of those close to me: Eleanor, Rob (see Remembering Marion) and Sarah.
So many parents. I mean on the one hand I know we all die. I know we mostly all have two parents. And that makes for a lot of parental deaths
Yesterday a friend and I joked about that line from Oscar Wilde, ‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune to lose both looks like carelessness.”
And in the midst of it all, Sandra Bartky died. See Saying Goodbye to Sandra. I’m away this weekend at a memorial gathering of her former students. I’m thinking again about death, how short our lives really are, and the legacies we leave behind.
I know I can’t keep track of them all but sometimes in my head I recite the list of names of friends and family members who’ve died over and over again. And I know it will get longer and longer, assuming I stay alive. I know I’ll lose track. There are probably people I’m missing now. I didn’t list friends of my parents. I didn’t list my friends’ parents.
Often now I buy sympathy cards in multiplies. I’ve gotten better at knowing what to say. I’ve been to lots of funerals. Always go to the funeral.
My mental list is getting too long. Sometimes now already I forget that someone, usually a philosopher, is dead.
It feels selfish writing about some of these deaths since I wasn’t that close to the people involved. But it’s true for all of us that friends and family members die. It doesn’t let up. Sometimes I just want to tell the world I need a break. “Could no one please die this week?”
I don’t want to get tough in the face of death. I want to stay soft in my heart and open to love and to loss. People sometimes think that my quest to stay physically fit is about fending off death. It’s not. See Fighting aging? Why the battle language?
I’m all for aging. As my dad used to say, it beats the alternative.
But losing friends and family? There’s not much good to say about that I’m afraid. I’ve gotten very protective of the people I love. DRIVE CAREFULLY, I scream at them. I ask if they are eating well, seeing a doctor regularly, you know. I hang on to people tightly. I hug goodbye fiercely. It’s the toughest part of aging, in my experience. Also, so few people talk about it.
My mother lost a dear friend last month. They’d been close friends for decades. Old friends, the kind you’ve known for most of your life, won’t happen again. This is just normal aging, I know. There’s nothing tragic here really. But still. Nothing stays the same. Don’t get me started on the dogs.
Hug everyone. Hug lots. Hold people close. Tell them you love them.
How do you cope? What strategies do you recommend? Puppies, I know that one. Long bike rides. Walks in the woods. But what else?