At the end of every year, we see lists of “people we’ve lost” during the year. These lists are usually comprised of Hollywood celebrities, athletes, music artists, literary giants, etc. Generally, these are people we don’t know on any personal level other than being an admirer of their creativity, their acting, their prowess on whatever sports field, or their words on printed page. The product of their lives has touched ours in numerous ways, but their lives never truly intersected with our own.
We look over these lists with wonder and amazement of how our childhood idols, teenaged crushes, or influential beings are leaving us and we notice that it feels alarming to us. How could they be gone “so soon?” We feel a sense of loss and tragedy; perhaps not so much for them but for the memories their work helped to create for us. We recognize a glimmer of our own mortality when our icons die.
In 2017, I felt sadness for the deaths of icons and idols from my life whose work left an impression on me: Mary Tyler Moore, Adam West, Mike Connors, Richard Hatch, Erin Moran, Tom Petty, Malcolm Young, David Cassidy, Jim Nabors, Monty Hall (who didn’t love Let’s Make a Deal?!), Spencer Johnson (have you read Who Moved My Cheese?), Don Rickles (you hockey puck!), J. Geils, Joni Sledge, Dallas Green (Go Phils!), and Bill Paxton to name just a few. I didn’t know these people personally, of course. My connection to them is in my memories of watching their TV shows with my brother and our parents, or seeing them play (or manage) a game in Philadelphia, or reading his book with a great group of colleagues at Susquehanna University. Jim Nabors was one of my mom’s favorite singers. David Cassidy and Richard Hatch were among my early teen crushes. My friends and I cruised local streets to the music of AC/DC and Tom Petty (among others, of course). Oh, the sweet memories!
While the deaths of celebrities and athletes may impact us, our bereavement is fleeting. We muse over their influences on our lives, we might say a prayer, or recognize their deaths in some quiet way. But we go on relatively easily with the normalcy of our lives. We feel the brush of mortality more keenly when someone dies whom we know personally.
On December 23rd, I learned that a man who had touched my life personally had died suddenly and unexpectedly the day before. Although we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in decades, I felt an enormous sense of loss and mourning for Jack’s son and daughter, his mother, his sister and brother and their relatives and friends who had the pleasure of spending their lives with him. I also felt mourning for myself that caught me a bit off guard – because our relationship was so long ago and we’d had no contact over the years.
When we have loved someone, I believe we carry a portion of that love with us. Sometimes, it is deep in our hearts especially when the relationship ended long before a life ended. It’s that deep, tucked away portion that is unexpectedly awoken when someone we loved dies. It certainly awakens a sense of mortality and brings it to the forefront of our thoughts. This awakening of mortality occurs when death separates us from long-ago loves or our parents, siblings, friends, and, in my case, hospice patients.
Today, I can be grateful for the love and experiences that my long-ago relationship taught me – thankful for the threads that added to the tapestry of who I am.
I hope that Jack, and each who died in 2017, now rests in Peace. I hope that the people who loved them may find comfort in loving memories. I hope that brushes with mortality enable us to live more fully and love more deeply until we are the ones resting in Peace.
© 2018 Caring Choices