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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Blogger Kay Dennison said...

Excellent post, AQ!!!

One of the things I hate about most getting old is that I keep losing people and it seems that the ones I like best are the ones I'm losing first. Sigh. And I'm learning that losing favorite bloggers and 'net friends is as difficult as losing so-called "real time" friends.

10:50 AM  
Blogger joared said...

Yes, loss is as much a part of living as is life itself. You know that only too well with the untimely deaths in war, as if we don't get to experience more than we want in daily life with civilian friends and family.

I do think some part of every departed soul goes on with those with whom they've had contact. I think even those who are gone from conscious awareness still have left some essence of themselves with others. A very thought-provoking post, AQ.

9:13 AM  

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