Monday, January 5, 2009
The Forbidden Topic
A new year. ANOTHER new year. I've done it before - seventy-seven times.
No, the forbidden topic is not sex. It's death.
Many older people mention death directly or obliquely much too often to suit the younger people in their lives. My mother did it repeatedly for many years. "Well, I guess this is the last winter coat I'll ever have to buy." or "Well, I guess I won't have to put away the Christmas ornaments another year after this one." It drove us crazy. My sister did it, to my mild annoyance. I do it sometimes, and my children hoot me down.
Do it in your doctor's office, and you'll see instant alarm in his/her eyes. I remember I once told a doctor (allowing my mouth to follow my stream of thought, and not in the least intending any serious concern) that when I looked into a mirror I seemed to be disappearing. I meant only that my hair was white, I seemed a bit pale, and my eybrows were thinning, etc., but the young man nearly went into panic.
But I now understand why we do it. After all, we grow a bit weary as we grow old. And we've done it all before. Nothing is really new any more. We see our friends and family die, and we have moments of loneliness. My husband went first. Thirty-seven years ago! I gladly would have gone then, but for the children. It didn't seem possible to me that I could survive so many years. Then my mother - and how would I fill my days after that? So many of my dearest friends. And then my sister. Her leaving left such a huge void in my life. And so it continues.
Can't begin to tell how strange it was for me when Jack died last summer. Despite the fact that we had not seen one another for many years - he was still there. We did communicate. I was born just two weeks after him. He was an integral part of my life - almost my family - and my constant companion for the first six years, and a large part of my life for many years after that. Although I didn't actually think about it immediately, when two weeks passed following his death, I was mildly surprised to find myself still alive. On some level I guess I was expecting to go then - year matching year.
I've watched them all go - my heroes - all the good guys - most of the funny guys - even George Carlin is gone now. Life isn't so much fun any more.
Then every so often, someone you remember so well pops up on television. Maybe they're doing a retrospect, or being honored for something or other. And they look OLD! Really, really OLD! And you go look in a mirror. And you are OLD! - older than you remember from this morning. And then you meet someone you haven't seen recently, and they tell you how great you look. "Haven't changed a bit!" And you remember how you just looked in that mirror, and you want to tell them that you aren't a fool, and anyway, THEY look older too, and just wait until they catch up with you!
Now just where was I going with all of this? I'm old. I forget.
Anyway, when elderly people tell you they may not be around much longer, they really aren't being morbid or even sad. They are just making conversation. It's just a matter of very real fact. Nothing to be alarmed about or to worry you. The moment will pass, and LIFE will go on, for them as well as for you. And if they want to discuss wills or insurance policies or funeral arrangements - again, it isn't morbid. It's practical. Face facts. Talk about it calmly, then move on to more immediate concerns.
The sun will come up tomorrow.