Sunday, November 2, 2014

Perspective: Contemplation at the Day of the Dead

I have a 60-year-old friend who is dying. His wife, one of my dearest friends, is only a couple of years younger. It seems to me that she is painfully young to lose her husband. Although, I have other friends who lost their spouse when much younger than that. My childhood friend Glenn died at 39 and his wife was pregnant with their third child at the time. There are so many people for me to remember on the Day of the Dead.

Trying to do the math to calculate about my grandmothers, I figure that my maternal grandmother must have been about 60 when my grandfather died. He was around 63. I used to think Grandpa was old when he died, but from where I stand today, I think he died young. Perspective. My other grandfather died within a few weeks of my birth, when my father was only 25, and my grandmother was in her fifties. My daughter is 30 and not only is her father still alive, so is her grandfather (my dad), who is 85 and in excellent health for an old guy. How fortunate is that? How fortunate for me, at 60, to still have my father? This good fortune is not lost on me.

When I was a teenager, we lived across the street from a family with a son the same age as I and two daughters. The wife’s aging father (the grandpa) was in failing health and lived with them. One day an ambulance appeared at their house. I watched it pull into the driveway from our kitchen. I assumed that something had happened to the wife’s aging father. But no, that was not the case. The husband, who was in his forties, had died of a massive heart attack. Grandpa was still alive and the children had lost their dad. What a mixed-up and ironic tragedy. This woman was left widowed, with young children, and her dear old dad still living.

In the summer of 2015, it will be ten years since my mother passed. Talking with my father this week, he said the hardest times for him are joyous family events because he wishes Mom was there to celebrate with him. He would have liked to see her enjoy the event. All of us would have loved to have Mom at Akili’s wedding. Dad says he goes to these celebrations for both of them, taking Mom with him in his heart. I remember my grandmother once telling me that she considered herself my grandfather’s “ambassador on earth” after he was gone and that she was living for both of them. I take a little bit of Mom with me to these events as well. She was certainly with me in my heart at Akili’s wedding, along with a number of other people; a crowd of spirits milling about in my heart.

I have lived with a chronically ill husband for many years, knowing how diabetes progresses, fighting that progression every step of the way. Recently, in the context of a worship service at synagogue, the rabbi said, “If you have had to handle a life-and-death situation in the past year, stand up.” I stood. I never really think about it, but I have regularly saved my husband’s life when his blood sugar has dropped dangerously low; usually in the middle of the night, while everyone else is sleeping (except the lady who answers the phone at 911 who held my hand, metaphorically speaking, on one particularly bad night). Saving my husband’s life is routine. That sounds funny. It actually is funny, or would have to be, otherwise I would be addicted to Prozac.

Every day that I have my husband here with me is a gift and I cherish my time with Dad. I try not to squander these gifts. It should not take age and ill health, however, to keep us honest about feeling grateful for the presence of those we love. There are no guarantees. We could lose anyone anytime at any age. The only antidote we humans have to counter the unstoppable rush of death is the determination to live joyously and well in the present; to love, to dance, to laugh, to appreciate and enjoy one another, to savor the sweetness with delight. So that when death comes, it robs us only of the future and it cannot touch our precious past.

Mt Fuji at Sunrise by Hidenobu Suzuki.
I saved this gorgeous serene image a while back and had no occasion to share it, 
but it seems to fit with today's blog.

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