Monday, June 24, 2013

Death makes another visit

Parents never expect — and should never experience — the loss of a child. The same is true, to a lesser degree, of younger siblings.

Two long drives in four days took me to visit the sickbed of my younger sister who went from oblivious assumptions of good health to a cancer diagnosis to a hospice bed in a matter of days. The shock still reverberates through my gut and awakens me at night. Plans and expectations of visits and conversations are washed away in a flood of painful reality that my incredulous mind cannot grasp.

This is not a new reality for me. I was 13 when my older sister died in a traffic accident. My older brother died following emergency heart surgery just seven months ago. The refusal to accept reality gripped me in similar ways when death struck too close 50 years apart.

At an age when my greatest anticipations revolve around the time when my wife and I will retire and will have the time that the workday world does not allow us, I face the reality that my sister, whose dreams of free time and of cuddling grandchildren into adolescence and adulthood are the same as mine, will be denied that joy and achievement we so yearn for. Life is filled with hoped-for outcomes and anticipation of good times, but the cruelty of death is not limited to the young and vibrant. We who have achieved our greatest goals — seeing our children educated and married and holding grandchildren shaped by our own genes — but still hope for new joys and time to savor life's goodness can face the cruelty of hopes shattered and happiness barely tasted suddenly denied. Death at any age denies us the sublime pleasures of this life. It's arbitrary, unfair and unstoppable.

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