I try to be an upbeat person most of the time (at least, upbeat in the sense that I am grouchy and sarcastic, but I’m trying to be WITTY about it). I think I have a pretty good life and I really have no complaints. But I realized in the past few days that I have a looming fear — I am afraid of death. But not in the sense that you might immediately think.
Obviously, I fear my own death. Who doesn’t, really? I mean, it’s kinda creepy to think about even, when and how will it happen, will it hurt, will it be gross… bah. I think people who say they are not afraid to die are lying, at least to themselves. You should be scared when you don’t know what’s about to happen. But in addition to the fear of possible pain and/or suffering, I worry about my kids. My sons do not have the same fathers. I worry that they would be separated if I died.
I also have fear of anything happening to my children. I cannot really even write about what that fear feels like.
I fear for my siblings. We are five fairly close people (I’m not the quiet one — but I’m pretty sure I’m not the loud one either!). Losing one of them would break my heart. I fear for my husband. It seems like it took me so damn long to FIND him, I don’t know what I would do if he went away. I worry about my nieces and nephews, some of whom are adults themselves now, but they will always be these sweet little babies that I got to hold once upon a time.
I fear for my friends. So much, in fact, that a few weeks ago, when I had a horrible dream that Kayla had died, I had to call her first thing in the morning just to say hello.
But, the thing is, when it comes to all of these people, myself and my children included, I can mentally accept that death is a reality, that we are all mortal, and that there is a possibility that I could outlive one of more of them and have to deal with their deaths. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I am at peace with that, but I at least get it. I think I would find a way.
But there are two people who this simply doesn’t apply to — my parents. For some reason, I still don’t think that my parents can die.
Last week, a friend of my Mom and Dad passed away. He was 70, just a month older than my Dad. I won’t pretend that I knew much about Mr. Winter. In the 36 years I’ve been on this planet, I don’t think I had more than a few conversations with him, all of which consisted of “hey, how are you, how’s it going, nice to see you.” My mother and Mrs. Winter are very close girlfriends, and I know her well enough to engage in a conversation with her. But honestly, I really don’t even know her kids’ names. My parents have so many friends, most of whom they’ve known since the late 1940’s when they were all single-digit aged children. After a while, they all blend into each other, so I know them by face or story, but sometimes I forget who is who. Unfortunately, Mr. Winter had fallen into that category for me.
At his wake, I went with my folks up to the casket. There, we were greeted by one of Mr. Winter’s daughters, who gave us a group hug. She then said something that struck me — she looked over at her Dad and said, “Can you believe the nerve?”
It stuck me because I knew exactly what she meant — I absolutely could not belive that her Dad had the nerve to die on her. Who the hell did he think he was anyway?
I realized at that moment, looking around at this huge group of lifelong friends, that it never occurred to me that THEY were mortal. Looking around at the photos of Mr. Winter and his family, it was clear that their lives reflected those of my own family. Trips and parties and weddings and dances and Christmases and vacations and a whole lotta Schlitz (there’s a reason their generation is so much more regular than my own). Like my Dad’s daughters, Mr. Winter’s daughters see their Pops as a hero. They see their Mom as someone who they desperately want to talk to (only to quickly tell her to just stop talking already — we are weird women). My husband, my children, my brother and sisters, my friends, my nieces and nephews… we are all mortal. But not this generation. These are my PARENTS. These are my PARENT’S FRIENDS. They simply aren’t supposed to go away.
I realized that I do not tell my parents how much I love them even nearly often enough. When I found myself pregnant, single, 27 and freshly fired, my Mom said, “Well just come home.” They helped me raise a newborn and didn’t ask for one thin dime in return. When I was having a bad patch in college, I called home, and my parents listened to every stupid complaint that 19-year-old girl had. My Mom could tell if I was smoking from hundreds of miles away. My Dad threw dookie at me at the lake (because when you find dookie in the lake, what do you do with it other than throw it at your youngest child, right?), though to this day he INSISTS it was just a piece of wood. But, fiercely independent (or trying to be), I rarely called home once I was gone. E-mail helped, but I am still horrible at picking up the phone and saying hello once in a while.
I realized this past week that it’s because I am talking them for granted. I just assume they’re going to be there. I don’t know what happens at the end, because I always just figured Mom and Dad would be there to tell me. I think it’s an assumption that Mr. Winter’s daughter had also made, which is why she couldn’t believe his nerve.
So, what’s the lesson here? Go tell your parents how much you love them. It’s hard to believe, but they are mortal too.
I love you Mom and Dad.