Preparing for the End

I’ve written about my grandparents many times over the years. Usually my posts are about one of their birthday or anniversary celebrations. I’ve been obsessed with them out of love, but certainly out of awe as well. Their longevity — especially after everything they’ve lived through — truly is a miracle and I’ve been blessed to bask in it.

But a visit with them two weeks ago forced me to accept that my grandparents are not going to live forever. There is no magic potion or holy grail to cause nature to veer off course. As a matter of fact, the visit from the hospice caseworker gave voice to the reality that my grandfather may not live to see the New Year. And, it’s pretty clear that, once he goes into the light, my grandmother probably won’t be far behind.

I’m fifty-seven. By now, I certainly know that dying is part of life. But, if so, why is it so difficult to accept? In part, I think the unpredictable timing of death catches us by surprise…even if we think we’re prepared. Likewise, the age and manner in which one dies causes an automatic reaction of “it’s too soon.” For example, the death of a three-year-old from a brain tumor is unthinkable. The death of an eighteen-year-old from a car accident is devastating. The death of a twenty-six-year-old from an aneurism is heartbreaking. The death of a thirty-five-year-old from heart failure is shocking. The death of a fifty-year-old as a result of suicide is mindboggling. The death of a sixty-five-year-old from a terrorist attack gut-wrenching. The death of a seventy-year-old from metastatic breast cancer is distressing. The death of an eighty-year-old from Alzheimer’s is upsetting. And so it goes.

Death, no matter how or why it occurs or at which phase of life it hits, seems to sneak up when we least expect it. As such, the finality of it is difficult to grasp and accept.

And the death of a one hundred-year-old? I know it’s not tragic or shocking. My friends already are telling me I should find comfort in the fact that my grandfather “lived a full life.” They tell me how lucky I am that I’ve even had grandparents — or that my children have had great-grandparents — for so long. They all are correct.

But these people, who mean so well, simply do not understand that my grandparents’ impending passing is not easy to concede. It underscores the death of a generation, not just one or two people. With them gone, so will be the end of first-hand stories of “the Old Country”….eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust…the unimagineable tales of transition from “horse and buggy” and radio to modern conveniences and technologies. More importantly, my grandparents’ had an inner strength and wisdom that are difficult to find — if even possible to find — today. Their honesty, integrity, and devotion to family are of a brand that no longer is packaged and marketed. Their disappearance from this earth will make it an even darker and more challenging place.

My job is not to mope or despair. I must remember that I share their DNA. It now is my responsibility to remember all I learned and share their legacy with my own grandchildren.

It’s time to practice my Yiddish. Perfect my chicken soup. And draft a eulogy.