Mortality

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Natalie Cole, 65. David Bowie, 69. Alan Rickman, 69. Glenn Frey, 67.

Four entertainers known for their musical and acting talents. Each of them suddenly gone, their deaths coming in a span of less than three weeks since New Year’s Eve.

Though their deaths shocked and saddened fans around the world, I took their passing in stride. Partly because I wasn’t a fanatical follower of any of them and partly because none of them died at an exceedingly young age.

On Sunday, I attended a celebration of life that carried much more meaning. A longtime friend and former employer of Lori’s died earlier this month after a short but intense battle with cancer. She was 67.

She wasn’t a celebrity — far from it. But dozens of people who knew her gathered for a private event at a Portland restaurant to give her a sendoff worthy of one. Those who knew her best — childhood friends, friends made through work, the woman’s husband — shared memories and thoughts that were tender and heartfelt.

She was a remarkable woman, all agreed. Someone who rose above the turbulence of family dysfunction to lead a vibrant and principled life. Someone who married the love of her life (Friday would have been their 32nd anniversary). Someone who owned a fitness studio and a restaurant and sold real estate. Someone who loved art and poetry and dealt with people honestly and directly.

One person said of her: “She was like a streak across the sky.”

Another said: “It is a blessing to have a good friend; it is better to be a good friend.”

A quote, one from Maya Angelou, embodied our late friend: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

***

Celebrities’ deaths always seem to come as something of a shock. We often don’t realize how long they’ve been with us and we don’t want to accept that they are gone for good.

In contrast, the passing of someone we know packs a bigger emotional punch. These are people we knew, warts and all, whose words and actions and influences stay with us.

I remarked to Lori that our friend’s death — someone just four years older than us — seemed to signal the start of a new phase in our life. Sunday’s service, as uplifting as it was, nevertheless served as a reminder of our mortality — more so than the deaths of four famous entertainers.

We and our peers have gone from young newlyweds to parents to empty-nesters to retirees. We’ve become in-laws as our children have married. Some among us have become grandparents. Some have a lost a mom or dad and some have lost both. And now our friends are dying.

I don’t mean to sound morbid and I certainly am not suggesting the Grim Reaper is lurking nearby. After all, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is now 79 years (up from about 70 in 1955 and about 76 in 1995) and I am in good health. Plus, my mom lived to nearly 86 and my dad is about to turn 90.

But I do know that more of these celebrations of life lie ahead. After all, time is the great equalizer. No matter how rich or poor, happy or sorrowful, long or short our lives are — in the end, death takes us all.

When it comes in the years ahead, I hope to hear more tributes like those expressed for our friend. How inspiring to be remembered in such a positive way.

Photograph: The Associated Press

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11 thoughts on “Mortality

  1. Chester was 63, he had been known to say on occasion “I have had a great life, if I go tomorrow , that’s ok!” Well it’s not ok! I have had a great life too, but I had planned to spend a lot more great years with him. In the end he so wanted just a couple of more years, but even with all the prayers and tears I had to let him go. They say God answers all prayers, sometime the answer is “no”. So never miss an opportunity to hold the one you love, it is never enough.

    • Back when I was 23, I had no concept of what it meant to be 63, let alone to die at 63. Cynthia, I can’t imagine the devastation of your loss, to have your life partner taken away with so much time ahead that you had planned as a couple. Your observation that sometimes God says “no” to prayers is a poignant one. Thank you for sharing your lesson learned: Never miss an opportunity to hold the one you love.

  2. What a wonderful reflection. I spent a great evening with her back in 2007 when our mom was sick. I just came across some of the photos from that night. Smiles all around. Yes, be a good friend. Really important gift to give.

  3. Ever since my brush with shufflin’ off, I have thought a lot about death, and it hasn’t helped me one bit to think about it, except to realize that as it gets closer it’s all the more reason to kick back and relax and be thankful for the whole glorious mess.

  4. Yes, I was also surprised by this spate of 60 somethings passing away these past few weeks and artists as well. A famous Indian dancer also passed away though she was much a older and my brother’s friend who was 63, a professor and a lover of astronomy who lived in New Mexico – apparently a place where the stars are the clearest – took that leap. A meeting of minds somewhere? Planetary effects – who knows. I do think though that with people living up to the 100s now, 60s does feel a little too early. But all of our existence is so transient I guess. That’t the reality we all have to find ways to process.

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