The call came in the middle of the night—a shrill ring startling me awake from a dead sleep.
It was Dad calling to tell me that my mother was “gone.” He couldn’t yet say the stark word “dead.”
That call came twenty-seven years ago last week. This holiday, I heard of one death after another—Richard, Skipper, Gabe, Brian, Shirley, Nelson and people whose names I only know as Dad, Mom and Grandpa. None of these people were in my inner circle of friends and family, yet all were people I cared about or were loved by them.
Each of these deaths involved phone calls no one wants to make or receive. Death here in the season where we celebrate birth.
I know the light is returning on this side of the winter solstice, but in the dark of night, the ever-present reality of death has settled deep in my bones.
In this upcoming year I will turn sixty, the age of my mother when she died.
My knee aches. Howard’s hearing diminishes. What will aging take from us?
Death and loss pace just outside the door of my life, and at this moment I’m afraid that someone I love dearly might be next.
Several years ago, I selected songs to honor Howard’s and my thirty-five years of marriage. One, “Nothing Lasts Forever,” was based on a poem by the mystic Rabindranath Tagore:
Nothing lasts forever…
keep that in mind,
To live with an open heart, loving others and life itself, will lead to the sharp pain of grief when death comes. And yet, paradoxically, full-hearted loving despite the fact that “nothing lasts forever,” it is only path to joy.
It takes courage to be awake and present in our lives. Rather than push my fear of loss away too quickly, I sit in the dark of night and let it soften me. Now is what we have each been given. Tomorrow is mystery.
Writing is one of the ways I make sense of my life and my feelings. Putting these words on paper didn’t make the fear evaporate, but it reminded me once again of the solid foundation that trust and courage offer all of me, including my loving heart and frightened bones. Someday soon, my fears will settle as they have many times before.
When that happens, I will remember that life and death are two sides of the same coin. And both are normal and safe.