Friday, June 27, 2008

Reflection on Mortality

My baby sister's mother-in-law's birth anniversary was June 19th. Gemma was a real spitfire, blind as a bat from her diabetes but she hardly ever missed a thing going on around her. Despite her diabetes and complications from it, she was totally aware and engaged and retained a keen mind. She was plain-spoken, totally without guile, and if she liked you she was fiercely loyal. This was the first birthday that her family had to observe without her.

On Wednesday I got a call from my step-brother telling me that his mother had passed away. I only met her in 2004, but everything about her was warm and genuine. She and my step-siblings opened their homes, shared family history with me freely, and I left the next morning with the strong sense that I had just spent the previous day with family. Bernice, in particular, just radiated compassion and, although I have no doubt she had a temper, it has been that loving compassion that I remember every time I think of her.

Today I finally had time to catch up on some blog reading and I learned that Joycelyn Ward, Maya's Granny, has passed as well. I never met her in person, but her writing was so clear and engaging that you have to imagine that she spoke just as she wrote. Of course, she was a Berkley liberal which was initially intimidating to an Iowa farm boy, but she was so articulate and clear in her thinking and writing that I always enjoyed what she had to say, even on the rare occasion when I couldn't agree with it.

Finally, I've been reflecting on mortality. Of course children must expect to lose their parents one day, but these three women were so full of life that it seems impossible that their lives have been lost to us.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago regarding her grandmother, and she told me that her grandmother had promised that she'd live forever. Her grandmother passed away, of course, as we must, but her legacy remains very much alive in the way my friend relates to her daughter and her daughter to her friends. Gemma's influence has been imprinted on her son and on my sister, and Bernice obviously gets a lot of the credit for how her children and grandchildren have turned out so far.

It occurs to me that what dies is the body. The love that emanated from each of them does live on, if not forever then at least indefinitely, in the lives of those they touched and in the lives we, in our turn, touch. I think people like Gemma and Bernice and MG don't die unless we let them die, unless we turn away from the gifts they left in us.

There are people I've forgotten, and perhaps I'll be forgotten (that's not for me to say), but there is a piece of Joycelyn Ward in me that I hope I never lose touch with.

Update: Winston Rand... He was a pretty good guy.

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A Word for Hospitalman Dustin Kelby Burnett

Hospitalman Dustin Kelby Burnett, 19, of Fort Mohave, Arizona, was assigned to First Marine Division Detachment, Twentynine Palms, California.

Doc Burnett died June 20, 2008, when an IED exploded near his vehicle in Farah, Afghanistan. There's more about him in this article.

Semper Fi

A Word for Hospitalman Marc Retmier

Before I get too invested in talking about my "summer vacation," I have two other posts to do.

Hospitalman Marc A. Retier, 19, of Hemet, California, died June 19, 2008, of wounds suffered in a Taliban rocket attack on his unit while caring for Afghan civilians in northern Paktika, Afghanistan.

Doc Metmier was stationed at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, and was assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Sharana in Afghanistan. There's more background on him in this article.

Semper Fi