My mother’s companion of 28 years passed away last weekend, at the age of 79. He’d been in poor health for a long time, and the massive heart attack that killed him wasn’t wholly unexpected. And yet his death is still shocking, still startling in its lightning-strike finality.
Even before this, my mind had been often contemplating that final destination. Not so much for myself (I never worried about dying young until I had my daughter), but for my aging parents, both 80 years old; I knew that Death was waiting patiently by their sides.
He appeared maybe 10 or 15 years ago, when the realization hit me that my parents were (gasp!) getting old and would die someday. He was fuzzy at first, a shadow. Every day since then he’s been getting clearer, more defined. He’s like a black buzzard sitting on their shoulders.
Losing a parent at a young age has got to be shocking and traumatic. I don’t envy anyone in that position. I’ve been lucky to have my parents around for a long time (and still going fairly strong), and I’m grateful for that. But there’s something horrific about realizing your parents mortality, of suddenly seeing that shadow looming over them forevermore. You find yourself waiting for him to strike-will it be today? Tomorrow? Next year? In a decade? It’s a slow dread.
We laugh and live in spite of him, ignore him as best we can. Flip him off now and then. But he’s immovable. He’s like one of those British soldiers guarding the Queen’s palace. He won’t move a muscle until it’s time to move. You can do your best to distract him, lure him away, do a little dance to make him crack a smile. You feel a little foolish in the attempt, but what else can you do? That stare is unnerving.
So while I mourn my stepfather’s passing, while that black buzzard makes his claim on those that I love, I have to remember to keep on dancing.