When I was nine years old my great grandmother died. She was 94. From what I remember she was a big personality and warm and kind and since she was the progenitor of my Grandma Mary and my own mom, you knew she was a big bundle of attitude as well. Both my grandfathers died when I was five and while I can remember flashes of them I don’t remember THEM, or even their funerals. I remember my great grandmother’s funeral though. I remember it because I was overwhelmed by the formalities of it, and the attitude of my family (it was also the first time I can remember being incredibly anxious in large group/party situations, which continues to this day.) Anyway, I didn’t understand why everyone was so damn happy. Smiles and laughter and all sorts of fun stories. Weren’t funerals supposed to be a depressing fair? Why was everyone so happy that she had died? I ditched the funeral and went on a walk and got lost in the hilly streets of Richmond until I found some view of San Francisco and the bay and I waited there until the silence and the bay and breezy salty air calmed me down. I turned around then but didn’t remember how to get back and I cried. I don’t remember how long I was gone.
I haven’t experienced a lot of death. I know it’s coming. For the first time I can see all the big steps of life before me and around me. Friends are getting married. Others are having kids. People have settled into a career. They’ve had cancer and divorces. Their parents have died. They’ve purchased their first home. They’ve moved across the country or the world. They’ve gone to war and come back. They’ve gone to war and not come back. On and on and on, step after step after step. Life keeps coming.
My Grandma Joan who died today said one of the hardest things about getting older isn’t the pain, or any of the physical or mental decline. It involved watching all the people around you pass on. She was the last survivor of her generation. Her husband, Joe, my grandpa, died more than twenty years ago. Her sister died a decade later. She spent another good decade with a man she loved and she watched him die as well. It’s the nature of the beast, she said. The final step. All you can do is wave to everyone with a smile on your face before you jump into the pool. She waved to me several times. I always enjoyed adding an extra shot of brandy to her drink when my parents or the doctors weren’t looking. I enjoyed making her smile, which never took more than one story of some adventure, big or small, I’d had. She said life was tough, but that it wouldn’t be any fun if it weren’t. Any better motto than that? Be at peace.