It is a tragedy when anyone dies young — at 40 or 50 or 60 — of brutally random cancers or heart attacks or deadly accidents that rob their families of husbands and wives and parents and them of the futures they had expected to enjoy. Over the years, I have wept, cursed the gods, and grieved for these friends and their families. I also more selfishly mourned the friendships I wouldn’t be able to continue.
It was tragic. And, I assured myself, an aberration. Not an omen. Mostly incomprehensible. Then life went on.
These days I’m decidedly older, and having lost five friends, ages 74-80, in the last six months, I can no longer tell myself these deaths are aberrations. Which makes their loss not only profoundly sad, but deeply unsettling.
I’m not alone. When a dear friend passed along the most recent obituary from the town where we bought our first house and had three children, she noted, “It is so hard to get used to the idea that our contemporaries are now dying.” This from a woman who was widowed about five years ago, 25 or so years after her first husband was one of our young friends who died. She’s no stranger to death of loved ones, but she, too, is processing things differently now, “at our age.”
I also asked my husband how he was thinking about these losses, if he had a sense of perspective that I had not yet found, and he acknowledged the oddness of his struggle to wrap his head around them, too.
The closest I can get to labelling this reaction, is to say that it feels as if a chunk of my life has fallen away with each loss, making me feel at once diminished and more vulnerable. The death of a high school friend, for example, erodes the discrete experience we shared then; same for a college classmate; and the friend with whom I navigated our early marriage and first children days; also a law school roommate; and so, too, the dear friend who made me laugh and taught me the ropes when we moved to Dallas 40 years ago. What happens to the “Days of our Lives” when there’s no “our” anymore? A friend’s death makes you feel alone with your once-shared memories, and suggests a loneliness the future may also hold.
And that’s only if I’m lucky, if I continue to enjoy good health, live strong and embrace all the love we share, my family and friends and I.