My mother passed away unexpectedly literally six weeks following a fall. My mother falling was something I’ve always dreaded as I witnessed the ever increasing shuffling of her feet and hesitant incomplete steps. “Mom, pick up your feet”, my sister and I would admonish her, and “You are going to fall!” She would try to remember but then lapse back into the comfortable and now all too familiar shuffling gait. My mother’s falling was the very thing we worried so much about and it was that very worry that came to pass. I’ve come to learn that terminal falls occur in 60% of the elderly who suffer a serious fall. That fall is ultimately the biggest contributing factor in their death. My mother became that statistic. My mother’s passing was probably the most devastating loss in a sea of devastating losses. My mother’s love was all encompassing. She taught me what it meant to love and be loved. She taught me what it felt like to experience unconditional and unwavering love and support. In the depth of my being I grew up knowing that in spite of anything and everything my mother was my soft place to fall.
As I stood at the head of her grave, I was gripped with an overwhelming sense of despair as my mother’s death was the fourth person in the nuclear family of my birth to die.
Looking out at the wide expanse of the national cemetery, where both of my parents are laid to rest I am saddened that the inscription on their headstone does nothing to adequately describe the richness, vitality and vibrant fabric of their lives. It is unfathomable to think that in a moment we are alive, engaged, interactive, and contributing members of our communities then in the next blink of an eye, we are gone. All of our possessions are given away, our families are mired in grief, and our friends are left to contemplate the meaning of life.
I never considered myself to be that person who could sustain such tragic losses. When someone died, I would offer the obligatory words of condolences and sympathy, and I meant every word I said, or so I thought. How empty those well-meaning words can be when you are on the other side of the equation. My family has a long standing history of premature death. On my father’s side it is considered miraculous to make it out of the fifth decade of life. My father’s parents and all of his siblings with the exception of one were all deceased by age 57. Both of my brothers succumbed in line with my father’s family history.
As I grew nearer to the end of my fourth decade, I began to seriously question my own mortality and not give in to the seeds of fear that were beginning to take root in my consciousness. Where am I on this pendulum? Is my path inevitable or do I have a choice in God’s plan for me?