My friend R lost his mother the other day. She was quite elderly and confined to a nursing home. She sustained a stroke a week ago and finally passed away in hospice care last Friday. So he finally joined the club I was inducted to a little over 4 years ago.
Which can't seem possible. But it is. I will have been "retired" 2 whole years in a little over a month. And my nephew Henry started college yesterday. Time seems to proceed at an accelerated pace the longer I walk this Earth. None of this seems possible.
R had talked about his mother every now and again. He is a man of a deep and abiding faith and so when he talked of welcoming the prospect of her passing, he spoke from the perspective of a Christian son who wanted his mother's suffering to end.
My own relationship with faith is, shall we say, a negotiable one. But I have been there. My own Mother's last years were just awful. She somehow broke a hip in the bed. Her Parkinson's had caused her dementia to accelerate to the point where her grasp of reality was occasionally tenuous. For example, there were times toward the end of her life that she did not remember my name.
As my friend Mark said of my mother's state before she died, "We just live too long."
I tell the high school kids that one of the scariest aspects of financial planning is the prospect of outliving your money. I tell them that longevity is a rather recent phenomena. During the time of the French Revolution people tended to die in their forties. Indeed, people would come from miles around to get a look at somebody my age.
Of course, I exaggerate. But not by much. Our medical technology can keep us going longer than Mother Nature intended or our finances contemplated. Or, maybe in the case of R's mom and my mom, they were just tougher than most of us. I know Mom almost set a record at the nursing home for living without food or water while she was in a coma. Sounds like R's mom gave her a race.
Keeping a vigil is hard. Mother died during what the advertising industry refers to as the Holiday season. Hearing Burl Ives sing "Holly Jolly Christmas" over the Muzak system was excruciating. To this day I damn near break into hives when I hear it. And R's a busy man with many people that depend on him. He had to have been torn between his duty to his mother and his professional duties. Been there too.
The timing of these things is never good. R will hit the ground running when after the funeral. Events that have been planned for years are on the immediate calendar. St. Vincent-Millay put it best concerning the death of her own father. "Life goes on. I forget just why."
And of course, those of us who love him felt useless during this time. Because while you want to do something, there is really nothing you can do and you don't wish to intrude. But you want to do something. It's just human nature.
He asked me to cancel a meeting for him. I was happy to do that. On my own I contacted some of his professional peers to let them know what was going on. One of them described my doing so as "thoughtful."
He is kind. I don't think of it as being thoughtful so much as the very real appreciation for the breath that God has lent me. And so I viewed my gesture as trying, in a small way, to pay it forward. And back and sideways.
Because R is my friend. And because I have been in his shoes.