I have been blessed and fortunate not to have a lot of deaths in my family. I know of people who have obituaries stacked in their cars from attending so many funerals, especially of young people. However, the circle of life is a non-stop ending and beginning.
This year for my family, the reality of death hit us multiple times. We are an aging group, but we still expect that people won’t leave us for another 20 years. The expectation is just that — an expectation. The reality is that death did come and visit my family beginning this past February. My cousin Charles passed away at age 77. He was the son of my mother’s oldest brother. He represented the hopes and dreams of the entire family. When he graduated from college back in the 1960s, the entire family turned out to see and celebrate.
Charles’ death was sudden and unexpected. So it hit me like a ton of bricks. Although he was cremated, the memorial service was packed to the brim. So many people loved him. Co-workers respected him beyond belief. And he left behind his beloved wife Mattie, the two of whom have always represented to me what marriage should be. It was about 20 years ago that I attended an event and Mattie had had surgery on her foot. As she slowly struggled to climb a tall staircase, Charles stood behind her with his arms wide open. He wanted everyone to know that if his wife should fall, he was there to catch her. That beautiful image will be with me forever.
In July, I lost my beloved Aunt Vivian. At 101, hers are the footsteps I plan to follow. Up until she was 99, she was able to live pretty much independently in an assisted living building. Even when she was put into a true nursing home-type environment, she was still stoic. When she turned 100, and I told her to say cheese, she listed about 20 different varieties. Her mind stayed sharp. We were able to celebrate her 101st birthday this past March. We could see that, mentally, she was not the same person she had been a year ago. So when she passed, although it was news I didn’t want to hear, I knew she had lived a good life.
They say death comes in threes. So I didn’t want to contemplate who the third death would be. When I learned of a distant cousin who had passed of old age, I thought that would be the third. But it turns out death number three was even closer.
My cousin David and I were pseudo-twins all our lives. We were born two days apart, I the older. Growing up, the thrill of seeing David was always pure joy. Although he was on the South Side and I was on the North Side and we saw each other maybe once or twice a year, it didn’t matter. It was as if no time had passed. We were both strong-willed, so we would often butt heads. But we were still cousins. So when I learned he had had a stroke that basically left him incapacitated, I immediately went to the hospital. Prior to the stroke, he had suffered from a number of illnesses. And though he couldn’t speak and was in a coma, I could still feel and tell he was fighting to stay. But the will of God won and the third death to hit my family happened.
David’s passing just before Thanksgiving is making this holiday season one in which I and the rest of my family will be doing a lot of reflecting. To others who have lost loved ones and need to make it through the holiday season without them, whether it be the first time or not, seek help from clergy, other family members and friends.