this is a shitty end to 2018. my mentor and sister-girlfriend lost her battle with cancer in october. a woman i referred to as grandmother had a heart attack and passed away in november. i last saw her a few summers ago, my dad snapping a photo of us in her living room as she chided me to come back and see her. she was a mother of the church where i was baptized, sang in the choir, ushered, and grew into a young woman. my sisters and i recalled hearing grandmother sing,
“you know i’m bound for mt. zion,
way out on a hill,
and if anybody makes it,
surely i will.”
indeed grandmother, surely you did.
this past saturday, my first-cousin lost his dad to complications related to heart surgery, and a dear friend of mine lost her uncle and her husband lost his uncle within days of each other. last week l learned that that the pastor whose teaching i sat under for 12 years, who took me and my boyfriend through pre-marital counseling in our early 20s, and who performed my brother’s funeral, is battling cancer.
it seems year-ends are marked with immense sadness and despair, loss and layoffs, and overall holiday loneliness. i’m hard pressed to remember a year that wasn’t scarred by tragedy. it’s almost as if the death angel hovers for 350 days then delivers a mighty blow just before christmas.
three years ago, the week of christmas, i was helping a friend clean her closet and we were laughing about the plethora of t-shirts she had in every hue and sleeve-length. i negotiated with her to donate almost half of them and she reluctantly agreed, opting to hand them off to her mother who was living in a care facility for patients with dementia and alzheimer’s. we might have been halfway through the shirts when the phone rang. she answered it, sat down, listened. after a few minutes she hung up and said, rather matter-of-factly, “well, i’ll be damned. mama just died.”
i was stunned. moments before we were piling up t-shirts and jackets for her mother and in a blink, she was gone. the afternoon went from levity to a lead balloon instantly. my girlfriend spent the next hour gathering herself while i sat stoically in the kitchen uncomfortably sipping merlot under her husband’s watchful gaze. “you don’t need to leave, just eat your snack,” he said as i began to gather my things.
the next few days found us traveling from store to store looking for an appropriate outfit in which to lay her mother to rest, and once found, we handed off the navy blue velvet dress to the funeral director before heading back to her house. earlier that month she had invited me to enjoy christmas dinner with her family but it didn’t set right with me to join a family in mourning over turkey and dressing so i declined.
fast forward to today, and this same friend is the executor of our sister-girlfriend’s estate. what an awesome responsibility and an honor to be chosen to settle her affairs and put things in final order.
if i’m being honest, i envy the elderly. they lived through the worst (and best) that life threw at them. their latter days are filled with nostalgia and trips down memory lane, laughing at family stories and remembering the good ole days. my dad often recalls his sky blue dodge truck with the floor stick shift, driving our family through northern canada in the dodge charger, and fishing with grandma, with near perfect clarity. elderly people aren’t worried about mortgages, retirement funds, stock purchase plans, taxes, or even death. they accept death as much as they accept life and from what i can tell, they don’t dwell on either. they coast from sunday to sunday, their minds awash in reverie as they praise god for another day’s journey, while i find myself troubled by shifting sands at work, the upcoming semester of b-school, and year-end reviews. all things that are in the rearview mirror for my parents and aunts remain on the horizon for me.
when ennui settles into the marrow of my bones i find myself searching for a slice of happiness, wishing to consume it, gorging until the hollow space is filled. i click past snapshots of memories, my mind a viewfinder, and each blink returns a different frame filled with friends, lovers, and experiences that eclipse the dark days and beckon me to embrace the light.