This fall, my husband and I lost a close friend. We also learned another is terminally ill. We ask each other, "Is this the stage
we are at?"
I want to handle death with strength and grace, so I turned to people
who have always exemplified that for me: my Jewish in-laws from Boston and my
Christian Aunt Sue from Des Moines.
father-in-law, Herb, is 78 and still bikes the world. My mother-in-law is 74 and stopped biking in third-world countries three years ago at 71. I
mean, these people have energy and are happy, and they've lost people.
what they had to say on how they've handled deaths:
Pictured: Karen and Herb Kavet, 74 and 78, in Norway. I mean look at them.
From my mother-in-law, Karen:
me, I have been very fortunate. The greatest loss in my life was my camp BFF
Gloria, who died at 43 in a plane crash and left two children, 8 and 5. But we
had grown apart, and I didn't even know she had died for a couple of years.
Still, when I found out, I was just devastated and a mess for weeks afterwards.
Luckily, through Facebook, I am able to watch her daughter's life journey and to know
that Gloria's legacy lives on through her.
been surprised at how much I think about and miss my parents, despite the fact
that they lived very long and mostly fruitful lives. After my parents died, I
went to Friday night services as often as I could for almost two years and
found great comfort in just being at Temple and saying the Kaddish for them. I
visit their graves frequently and talk to them as if they are still around, even
though I don't really believe in heaven, and I don't picture them in a
"better" place. They are just gone to me, but what they did and what
they taught me lives on in my daily life.
I are now at the stage in our lives when many of our friends and acquaintances
have either died or are very ill. What is most difficult is watching once
vibrant people who now have debilitating illnesses with no hope of improvement.
I think at this age, it is inevitable that our contemporaries die. Sometimes
the loss is far greater than it is at other times, but it isn't a tragedy like it
is when one is younger. It is just a fact of life.
I lost my
mother when I was 9. The results obviously were shattering but likely had such
an overwhelming affect on my life that I couldn't possibly condense them into
something you could use. Her death was probably cushioned by the large family
support system I had. An older sister raised me, an older brother was a
wonderful mentor and an enormous gang of cousins, aunts and uncles all lived
close by in the New York area.
a classmate dying when I was in grade school. His death had little effect on
me. Once a little girl, a friend of Matt's, died while they were in pre school.
Matt looked sad and said, "Now she'll never grow up." As good a eulogy as I can imagine.
probably one of the strongest reasons for faith. While it is delightful and
comforting to think there is a heaven and you'll be reunited some day with
those you loved, the concept is certainly unproven and most likely a fantasy. I
recall a close business partner who lost a young daughter. The minister used
faith to comfort them and seemed to pretty well convince them that she now was
in the arms of Jesus. Faith certainly helped them. Faith is a result of the
unknown and the uncertainty of life and humans' desire to find comfort and
now believe in little, I must say that, lately, I've had some personal experiences
encountering the concept of reincarnation. Another nice idea—unlikely to
exist—but fun to think about. It's all in my book.
working out like crazy, which generates mood-enhancing endorphins, eating
healthy, which makes you feel and look great, and, perhaps most important, doing
childish (possibly dangerous) crazy things like jumping out of airplanes,
fighting with guys years younger than you, participating in activities and
holding your own with younger people, (like skiing with Gregg and Matt). For
one thing you can figure, "Hey, I beat them, and I'm still alive."
A few years ago, I started reading obituaries. I hate doing it but
find myself drawn to them. It scares me to see so many people dying who are
younger than me. But with each birthday I can say "Ha, ha, ha, look at all
those people I beat!"
As far as
your request being depressing, it didn't faze me a bit. I still am fit enough to
feel invulnerable. Death doesn't bother me at all. What bothers me is not being
here anymore and having my sons putting all my stuff in a dumpster.
days after reading what my in-laws had written Karen reached back out to me and
had this to say]:
Yom Kippur services there are two readings that resonate with Herb and me. Herb's
favorite (the italicized part is what he refers to most often):
Not the Enemy
feel that death is not the enemy of life, but its friend; for it is the
knowledge that our years are limited, which makes them so precious. It is the
truth that time is but lent to us, which makes us, at our best, look upon our
years as a trust handed into our temporary keeping.
like children privileged to spend a day in a great park, a park filled with
many gardens and playgrounds and azure-tinted lakes and boats, sailing upon
day allotted to each of us is not the same in length, in light, in beauty. Some
children of earth are privileged to spend a long and sunlit day in the garden
of the earth. For others, the day is shorter, cloudier, and dusk descends more
quickly as in a winter's tale.
Whether our life is a long, summery day or a shorter, wintry afternoon, we know
that inevitably there are storms and squalls, which overcast even the bluest
heaven. There are sunlit rays which pierce the darkest autumn sky. The day
we are privileged to spend in the great park of life is not the same for all
human beings; but there is enough beauty and joy and gaiety in the hours, if we
but treasure them.
each of us the moment comes when the great nurse, death, takes us by the hand
and quietly says, "It is time to go home. Night is coming. It is your
bedtime, child of earth. Come, you're tired. Lie down at last in the quiet
nursery of nature and sleep. Sleep well. The day is gone. Stars shine in the
canopy of eternity."
my mother-in-law's favorite:
messenger were to come to us with the offer that death should be overthrown,
but with the one inseparable condition that birth should also cease; if the
existing generation were given the chance to live forever, but on the clear
understanding that never again would there be a child, or a youth, or first
love, never again new persons with new hopes, new ideas, new achievements,
ourselves for always and never any others—could the answer be in doubt?
interviewed my lovely, artistic, former piano teacher Aunt Sue from Iowa. Here
is what she had to say:
(My Aunt Sue with her mom, Jane, this summer in Iowa. Sue asked her how old she was; she said, 80. Sue told her she was 101, and Jane had a smile and laugh after this moment of disbelief.)
most people don't like to discuss it. We are mortals after all. But we don't
really come to grips with it until we age or have a serious illness. I lost a
friend when I was 30—she was a couple of years older. Cancer. She lived two doors down from our house on 44th. I remember talking with her about her
funeral, her illness, her family. I watched her progress from a healthy young
woman to being weak in bed and finally dying. She left behind a husband and two young boys. From that I realized life just goes on. It's out of our
that although our bodies return to dust, our soul lives on. That's according to the
Christian faith, taken from the Bible. I don't understand it but accept it by
faith. Christianity is based on Christ being resurrected …"Believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved … for God so loved the world that he gave
his only son that whosoever believes on Him shall be saved." We just need
to accept this gift by faith.
have a strong desire to live. ... No one wants to die and leave this life. After
going through breast cancer, I really realized how precious this gift of life
is. "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be
glad," from Psalms. Each day is a gift!
reading a book by Billy Graham, "The Reason for my Hope," ..."It is
the absolute assurance that there is life after death. For those who have lost
loved ones—and we all have—hope brings comfort to our aching souls. It
perseveres, persuades, prevails."