How do you accept death? Life, that’s easy. You look forward to seeds sprouting, grass turning green, a new baby’s wail. But how do you face death without this huge ache and dread in your gut? Maybe it’s different when you’re the one about to go – after you’ve lived 90 years. But I’m telling you now, I’m scared of the pain and unending sorrow that will meet me when a parent dies. No matter how angry and awful parts of my childhood are remembered to be, my mom and dad are my best friends. I call them every other day just to chat and catch up. They get on my case for choices I’ve made, I hang up on them, we chuckle, we plan visits. Who will I call ‘just to call?’ Who will make me feel that no matter what I do, who I do, how I feel, where I am, I have someone I can count on, someone who has my back, someone who still loves me? Only parents do that. They may pull the silent treatment or hold a grudge but in the end the wall comes down. Without them, I’m alone. I’m raw. I’m unprotected. Left to make decisions without their voice in my head; no one to try to make proud of me.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, my parents cancelled their trip to Europe, got in a car and drove 12 hours to the hospital to be there for my surgery 10 days later. They would have been here immediately but I made them wait. No one else but a parent does that for you without asking. They just know it’s what you need.
I want to scream, “Don’t die! You can’t die! Live forever, please?!” But I can’t because it wouldn’t do any good.
My dad’s cousin died last night. I called Dad to see how he was doing. He sounded just like he always does. Upbeat, sarcastic, active. He told me they’re waiting for a guy to show up to measure the backyard for a putting green. Then he said, “and then there were two.” Referring to the fact that only he and his cousin Joseph were the last of his line (ignoring of course that both of them have children and grandchildren). He’s not thinking legacy. He’s thinking time left. Me too. I wish I could pick his brain about death, dying, life, how he sees those, how he faces them, what he wants in the end and what he dreams about. But I can’t. Not because he doesn’t want to talk about it but because I’d be reduced to a blubbering mess. I don’t want them to think they have to do something to make me feel better. We have nothing to resolve, no words left unsaid. But maybe I feel like that kind of conversation could be closure in the future; something to look back on and smile warmly inside? But I’m not strong enough to start that chat.
Maybe I’m afraid to see how scared they really are; or how they’re not scared at all? Maybe I’m just afraid of not being steady. I cried making the speech at my best friend’s wedding reception. She caught it on tape. I’m still mortified by that moment.
How do you tell someone living how much you love them and how much you’ll hurt when they’re gone? You expect them to say something like- “I’m not dead yet” and then you feel like an ass. I hate myself right now because they’re here, they’re not gone yet and I’m grieving when I should be celebrating; when I should be embracing whatever time they are here. My mom is 70-something (she’d kill me if I revealed the number), my dad, 82. This year we are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Club Med Punta Cana. Last September, I had them running, er, walking all over Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Universal and the Magic Kingdom during a week in Orlando with Sage. People live to 100 these days, right? And if anyone can do it these tech-savvy jetsetters can.
Sometimes I think I’d like to go first and then there’d be no suffering, no emptiness, no pain 100 times worse than a boyfriend ditching you. I’m selfish but not that selfish. My parents don’t deserve to feel what I’m terrified to feel. Neither does Sage. She needs her parents for her own eternity and I would never want her to want to die before me. I just have to grasp that what will evolve is part of life; inescapable, tragic and tearful. That we did all we could do- are doing all that we can- for this temporal existence and nothing was missed.