The last to go shall see the first three go before her

(Originally posted June 19, 2005)

I don’t really remember the first person I lost.

I think it was either Aunt Nellie or Aunt Mildred, gone when I was young. Less than 10, I think. Too young to really get what death meant, or how heavy it could hit you.

Next would probably be my grandfather, my mother’s father. I was a bit older then… 12? 13? But since I didn’t know him very well, it didn’t hurt me as much as it hurt my mother.

The first one that I really started to get the finality of was my father’s father. I remember the song we rehearsed, as a family, to sing at his funeral. And how my grandmother looked, weeping, in her wheelchair, as we sang it. But since he and I were never close – in fact, I was a bit afraid of him – I didn’t feel the loss that others in my family did.

No, the first one that really made me understand, really made me ache, was when I was 20 and my father’s mother died. I don’t know if it was because we were so close, or because I was finally old enough to get it…? But the loss of her was something that I still carry around and, and still occasionally get surprised by the weight of the loss.

I’ve lost friends, too. When I was 18, in art school, a cop friend of ours shot himself in the head while at a party. Some party, eh? To this day, I can’t watch movies where people get shot in the head without thinking, “it’s not a neat little hole like that, you know. It really goes everywhere.”  Three or four years later I lost another friend to cancer.

For all that losing my paternal grandmother shook me, it didn’t even begin to prepare me for what losing my father was like.

Now, similar to the game of “which limb from the big pine tree is going to fall next” game, I find myself wondering who is going to be next. Odds would say the eldest, wouldn’t it?

Well, you’d think so. But then a co-worker six years younger than I am gets struck by lightning in the field one day, and you just can’t be too sure of those odds.

An old family friend – and by that I mean someone who has known me since I was about four years old, not that he’s old – has recently been diagnosed with two kinds of cancer. And I find myself like Dorothy, faced by the Wicked Witch of the West. She’s telling me that the last to go shall see the first three go before her—only it’s not three, it’s an unknown number. It could be three. But it could be thirty. It’s a crapshoot. It’s all a crapshoot; whatever we get is what we get and those of us that are left behind have to keep the memory of our loved ones alive in our hearts so that they never truly die and lie forgotten. And I think of what my friend Neil wrote once; “you get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.”

And I try to make the best of mine, and to see the best in yours.

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