I’ve, unfortunately, had many opportunities over the past 17 months, to reflect on death and loss and aging.
Today marks exactly 17 months without my mother, who was here and seemingly healthy one minute, texting me about strawberry scones on a normal Monday night, and dead the next morning.
Today also marks just another day of struggle and frustration for my dad, who is in the throes of dementia and frequently calls me by my sister’s name/calls me on his phone to tell me someone stole his phone/calls me to ask why I am not helping him evacuate from Hurricane Ian even though it’s over and hit Florida.
Which is better, I wonder sometimes, and which is worse?
It was pure, searing agony to lose my mother so suddenly. The shock of that moment will never truly leave me, I don’t think.
It’s slow, aching torture to lose my father so slowly. The pain of watching him – a brilliant man with an astounding grasp of the English language – grapple for the most basic words and fail, time and again, is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
With my mother, I never got a chance to say goodbye.
With my father, I feel like every day brings a new sort of goodbye.
I lost my mother all at once, in a brutal split second.
I am losing my father in pieces; every time we speak, I’ve lost more of him.
It’s sudden all-consuming grief versus slow-motion grief always running at a low volume in the background.
It also makes me contemplate my own mortality. No one can look at my father – his dependence on others after a lifetime of fierce independence, his confusion after a lifetime of confident certainty, his isolation after a lifetime of loyal friendships and late-night parties – and want to live that long. And yet no one can look at my mother – everything she still had left to do, all of her plans written in her journal , the paperback book left open on the edge of her bathtub – and want to just drop dead suddenly, with so much left unfinished and unfulfilled.
I can’t help but think back to what my daughters’ day care teachers used to say when my girls didn’t like the snack or were mad at not being chosen as line leader or wanted their juice in a blue cup and not a red cup: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”
Because ultimately, we don’t get to choose how we lose those we love and we don’t get to choose our own fate.
You get what you get, I guess. It’s not fair, but fair has nothing to do with it.
I’m not throwing a fit about it.
But I sure am sad.