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.


Anonymous said...

So true, Bobbie. I went through this with my dad and elderly family members, but it would pass and we'd be back to the more pleasant things that life holds. Now, I find myself occasionally making such statements.

Just the other day, I asked my mom when I started to look like a fat Basset Hound, complete with jowls and wrinkles... we had a good laugh, since I grew up with a Basset and used to call her my sister, when I was young.

Thanks for the perspective. /Deb said...

I'll admit I don't like it when my parents or mother-in-law talk about their soon dying, but I try to just listen and keep quiet.
I believe it is very healthy to talk about it Bobbie, so thank you for sharing,
; )

kenju said...

My mother-in-law wouldn't discuss any aspect of death because she feared she was bringing it on herself if she did. That made for her dying intestate and it was bad all around. Older people should be willing to discuss their deaths and what should happen after - otherwise - how will we know?

Dawn Fine said...

hi Bobbie..
I know what you mean...well i am 52 and i am starting to feel the aging...wake up with stiff joints..etc
but I look at my parents..who are 79 and I wonder how they feel? my mother keeps a file folder of obituaries of friends and she can remember who passed and when.
I wonder how it feels when you know you have lived most of your life?
So keep blogging have allot of friends here!

Anonymous said...

Great perspective, Bobbie. As I'm getting a bit older too I occasionally think along these lines. When you're young, you can envision yourself witnessing an event that's 30 or more years in the future, like a comet or a significant date, like 1984. Now I sometimes do a quick mental arithmetic when something like that is mentioned. Yes, maybe that one, but definitely not that other one! It's amusing in a weird kind of way!

KG said...

My mom and dad BOTH talk like this and they're only 65ish. It drives me nuts! My mom is usually using it as a form of guilt tripping ... as in, "Some day soon I'll be gone and then you can do whatever you want with this sofa that you don't like." *sigh*

I guess I just need some perspective on it. Thanks for offering yours!

Mom said...

Hi Bobbie, I have been reading your blog for a while now and do enjoy it. we see the world much in the same way.
Talking about death is easy for me, but I know it makes my kids uncomfortable.

Marla said...

My kids hate when I talk about it. My daughter always says, don't say that mom! I think you have to talk about realistic things like death.

Anonymous said...
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Maithri said...

Dear Bobbie,

You speak with a deep dignity and wisdom.

I think it was John Quincy Adams who once talked about his body as a house from which he would have to move out of...

To accept the reality of death is one of lifes greatest challenges.

And yet that acceptance allows us to live without regret.

Blessings of peace to you friend,


me ann my camera said...

This reminds me of an old neighbour of mine who often talked like this as she aged. Many a sentence began, "God willing, if I'm here next year." A neighbour down the street, who at ninety years now, has slowed down his step, and his slogan seems to have become one of the need not to replace many things anymore for as he says, "..this will see me out". All food for thought.

Lisa said...

It's a part of life and inevitable. I think the fear of dying and aging is what makes our younger generation uncomfortable with the speak...

It is what is though.

You have endured and you are entitled to speak of your future.

Shelly said...

I'm with you Bobbie, it just makes sense to me...perhaps it's because I don't have children. I feel like my spouse and I should have our burial plans in place so that the responsibility doesn't fall on someone we love.

Kay said...

You've really struck a chord with this post, Bobbie. My mother is forever saying things like, "I won't need any more clothes because I've got enough until I die." "I don't need another pan because I won't be around to use a new one very much." You're right though... it's not being morbid. It's just a fact she's trying to tell me.

I was looking at photos of a class reunion somebody sent me and was shocked at how old my classmates looked. That was really quite startling. That was my generation. That was me. Gosh.

Kathie Brown said...

Bobbie, I have to say that I appreciate you being so open and honest about this subject. I've been in 3 car accidents and have come a little too close to edge a few times myself. My nana and I were able to talk calmly about this subject. I realize it will happen to all of us. None of us escapes. I had my children born at home and saw my Nana die peacefull there with her family at her bedside. Modern society protects us from birth and death, things that used to happen in the bosom of the family. You won't scare me off if you want to talk about it. I know that someday I will get there too. I'm glad you are alive for now. I know you will value each moment you are given. TN said...

Bobbie, if I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. LOL I remember when my Mother was 71 (my age now) I thought she was soooooo old. Why is it...old is always about 25 years older than you are? When will I be old?