Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015, RIP
My mom died a year ago today. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for my best friend’s mom, who died this past February. Also in February, Leonard Nimoy took a final bow and exited stage left. Most recently — just last Thursday — another star went out, and it was one that shone brilliantly in the sky for so many of us.
Sir Terry Pratchett finally got to meet one of his key characters. I like to think that, for him, it might have been like meeting an old friend — and sadly, a visitor he’s been expecting for quite a while now. We fans know that Death personally attends the passing of wizards.
And Terry Pratchett was a wizard beyond compare.
Once upon a time I had a theory that Heaven and Hell were what happened at the very last moment of your life. They say your “life flashes before your eyes” when you’re about to die. What if that’s literally true? What if it really does?
And in that final, eternal moment, when your mind knows “this is the end,” and there’s no more kidding yourself, what if you have to face the person you’ve really been with no filters, no deceptions, no self-rationalizations?
What if, as death stands at our shoulder beckoning, we have an infinite moment of clarity in completely and fully recognizing ourselves.
Seven billion flames flicker in the night. Some burn bright and fierce, some soft and steady, some jump and dance. Every turn of the world, 350,000 tiny new flames begin to shine.
And 150,000 go out.
A flame that always lit my world, always warmed me, always guided me, no longer illuminates my dark.
My mom. 1924-2014.
“And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.“
Death Watch. A vigil over a dying person. Waiting. Not knowing which tick of the clock brings change. Tick. This one? Tock. This one?
There are other watches. Surgery watch. That one often brings good news. One can be hopeful. The doctor approaches with a smile; tension releases in a flood of relief.
The only relief here is that someone else, someone you love, is finally free from pain. For the rest there is only loss.
The other side of a life. Birth watch. The watch that brings joy. And cigars and balloons.
Birth. Tick. Death. Tock.
Grains of sand passing through the hourglass of life. Each of us having that brief quick ride through the throat of reality.
And having gone from there to there, at last, coming to rest.
The strange attractor that centers my universe for now is the growing certainty my parents won’t see another winter. Even the fullness of summer may outdistance them. The spectre came as slowly as time and a well life permits, but a thousand similes paint its implacable gait. Ages turn into years become months, then weeks, days, finally hours and minutes. All clocks stop eventually.
That they shall likely walk off into the Great Unknown almost simultaneously describes in the final act the entire arc of their life. In a word: together. Happily — no, joyfully — married for nearly seven decades. Never cursed with wealth, but ever blessed with love, they were rich beyond measure. They are why, even still, I believe in love.
To the extent I am a good person, look no further than my mother and my father.
The universe is perverse. I don’t mean that in the peeking into windows sense (although the universe is indeed peeking into all our windows every moment), but in the ironic sense. The universe is deeply, hugely, fundamentally ironic in ways that are incredibly perverse.
It is ironic in that the only constant is that nothing is constant.
It is ironic in that the only absolute truth is that nothing is absolutely true.
It is ironic in that its most basic everyday aspects are its greatest mysteries.
It is ironic in that the toast always lands buttered side down.
Last week a friend of mine experienced one of the worst things that can happen to a parent: outliving your very young child.
The past 16 months of her thread in life’s tapestry is particularly tragic and heart-breaking. It started a year ago March when her son, seven years old then, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given 12 months to live. Then, last November, her husband died at age 35 in an unexpected asthma attack. At that time, she was pregnant with their third child, a girl born this past May.
Last week this part of the thread finally ended having taken both men from her young life and leaving her to raise her new born and five-year-old daughter. If there is anything that leavens this heavy loaf, it is that she has the strong support of family and many friends. She is well-loved, which doesn’t balance the scales or make it easier to bear, but provides some solace. Her journey also should serve to remind us all just how rich and blessed our lives are and how we must cherish and appreciate each day. Continue reading