I have lost two dear family members this year. I am 48. Although it is not the sole domain of my age group--it is a fact of life that the older we get the more people who have mattered in our lives will die.
We humans have a hard time completely grasping death. In my uncle's case, I hadn't seen him for years. Yet his death affected me greatly. I found myself wondering if he had any idea what he really meant to me? He was an engineer who helped develop the tiles that kept the Apollo capsules from becoming fireballs as they reentered the Earth's atmosphere. He was a curious-minded inventor. He was a fun uncle. He always got down on our level, literally. There's a picture of my sister & I, we look like we're four & five at the time, on the floor with Omar. He's showing us something--one of us is pointing excitedly. We're all three enraptured by the excitment of it all.
When my boys were approximately the same ages as Lisa & I had been, Mil & Omar came for a visit. At one point I couldn't find anyone. Finally I heard noises in the downstairs coat closet. Omar had the boys in there showing them something you could see only in the dark. Now, I ask you, if you heard a story about a woman's uncle who had her two little boys in the closet with him, what would you think? But now that you know Omar, you know. The piece of titanium alloy that he brought all the way from Los Angeles, just to show the boys, still sits in a place of honor on Thing One's dresser.
Omar was married to my mom's sister. We all knew that Omar was the most brilliant member of the family--the family he married in to. In a cruel twist, Omar spent the last ten years of his life losing his mind to something like Alzheimer's. I never knew exactly what it was. It didn't matter. When he died in June on Father's Day, I hadn't seen him for nearly six years. My every day existence was not going to miss him. But did he know how much I loved him? Why didn't I just tell him that, emphatically if necessary, before the end?
Death is so strange. One second you're there like you've always been. The next you're not.
Speaking for myself, I'm not very good at remembering this as I'm caught up in the throes of regular day-to-day living. I take for granted that you are always going to be a breathing, heart-beating influence in my life. Plus I tend to dwell, stew, on the things and the people and the things about the people that bother me--and often, I have no doubt, I am quite right to be bothered by them. But when you're gone and it's all over, what is left has little to do with those things I spent so much time stewing on.
I'm going to leave you with two poems today that may seem a little disparate, but if you give them time to simmer together perhaps they will become good food for thought as we gather with our loved ones for Thanksgiving this week.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
from To Lou Andreas-Salome
.....For I don't think back; all that I am
stirs me because of you. I don't invent you
at sadly cooled-off places from which
you've gone away; even your not being there
is warm with you and more real and more
than a privation. Longing leads out too often
into vagueness. Why should I cast myself,
when, for all I know, your influence falls on me,
gently, like moonlight on a window seat.
Duino, late autumn 1911
--Rainier Maria Rilke