Once in a while you come across something that you share on Facebook and Twitter with almost gleeful anticipation, excited by the thought that others will be touched with the message to the depth that you were. This piece from the Los Angeles Times about how to know what to say when someone close is seriously ill or dying was one of those.
Basically, it suggests that you figure out exactly how far you’re distanced by relationship from the patient. Any whining about anything to do with YOU — your sadness, your need to visit the patient, your…anything — can only be shared with people at your level or beyond. The people closest to the patient, closer to her than you are, don’t need or want to hear it.
What the post leaves out is that for everyone involved, talking is a must. Keep it in and only alcohol, drugs or food will become your friends. Maybe that’s the stuff that was on the back of my mind when I went to see The Best Man Holiday. I highly recommend it whether you saw the first film or not. But, SPOILER ALERT, it’s as sad as it is funny.
It brought back a thought that hits me like a brand new revelation about every year or so since my mother died: There’s not a lot of joy being the last one to turn off the lights.
I’m in that frame of mind because I followed up the movie with a visit to my aunt in assisted living. Eccentric in her youth and now in her old age, she’s 78 and the last of my mother’s generation. I’m a only child and a child of divorce, so my mother’s side of the family is really all I know. When my aunt goes, there’ll be me and her daughter, who’s also a NotMom by chance. We’re it.
Surprisingly, it was only a few years ago that I figured that out, and it hit me like a truck. Stories my great-grandmother and my grandparents had shared with me of their part in America’s Great Migration of blacks escaping the Jim Crow South came flooding back. Their determination to succeed in the North, their setbacks, marriages and miscarriages, ups and downs. All of it will end with me. And my cousin.
Perhaps every only child who doesn’t have kids goes through this at some point. I don’t know. Me, I grieved over the idea of it for a while. And then I guess I forgot about it. Until I didn’t. The end of a family, and a multi-generational struggle that just…fizzles out.
After a while, I realized the only real Responsibility I owe to them is to be the best me I can be. Hokey, but true.
It’d be nice to cure cancer or create a school in South Africa, and maybe I will hit some immortalizing score one day. But, always, at the core, if I can just be the person they hoped I’d be, I think they’ll be pleased. As for ‘who’s going to be there when I get old?’, I try not to fall into that trap. I know 2 things for sure: I have no way of knowing if I’ll have the blessing of old age, and if I do, I can’t predict who’ll genuinely be there to love me.
Living in the Now is hard enough. Faith is believing the future will take care of itself.