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Death is kind of like the sword wound of a Nazgul … no matter how much time passes, we never really recover. It’s been a decade since my mom died; nearly that since my dad.  I’ve attended three other funerals since those (not counting Gram’s). They’re all somewhat like digging a scab off a mostly-healed wound.  You start to just bleed all over.

We didn’t make it down here in time to see Gram before she died.  That wasn’t the original plan anyway for various reasons (including travel time, Gram’s apparent disconnection from reality and the people in it, and our job responsibilities).  But I feel cheated that we weren’t here.  We missed it by an hour & a half.

It’s not that I actually want to see someone die … I guess I just feel guilty that I wasn’t there when either of my parents “shuffled off this mortal coil to touch the face of God” (marvelous speech by Ronald Reagan after theChallenger disaster in 1986).

I didn’t get to say goodbye.

My mom. I wish I had better photos of my parents.
My mom. I wish I had better photos of my parents.
My dad, circa 1952 or 1953. He was an MP in the Army till 1954.
My dad, circa 1952 or 1953. He was an MP in the Army till 1954.

My dad died alone. We’re not even entirely sure when – it was either the evening of June 6th or the following morning.  I kind of commemorate both days … the death certificate reads the 7th.  I guess God kept His promise about “when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will be with you.”   I’m sure He was.

Mom was a different story.  She’d been sick for a while, her body decimated by cancer and her mind robbed of its acute clarity by a cancer- or chemo-induced stroke. The damned disease even took her personality – her grace, her smile, her voice, her sparkle. Those last six months were horrible and ugly and everything I don’t want to remember.

As her health failed, mom’s doctor told the family on a Saturday night “it wouldn’t be long.”  My brother called me at college and told me to start preparing to fly back home.  I couldn’t afford to fly on short notice except on the bereavement fare (which you can’t get till someone has died), and I didn’t think I could get there in time anyway.  I had no car; I had no money; I had just begun a new job; I was about to be utterly smashed by the opening week of my first semester of grad school; I was 500 miles from home and lacking any adoptive “parents”—those adults who realize that 18 to 22 year olds are still pretty stupid and need to be mentored in the ways of life.

So I waited the extra 24 hours till my brother called again to say that she was in heaven, then flew home the next morning.  Mom’s journey into the Undiscovered Country was relayed to me secondhand.

My dad and brother and aunts and uncles gathered around her bed when the end was near and started singing. They sang hymns; they read psalms; they prayed; they sang some more.  She slipped away to the sound of their voices. It was done.  I should have been there.

I was far too dumb at age 22 to realize how much I would regret the extremely practical and sensible decision to wait 24 hours to fly home.

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