As I get ready to turn twenty-five this week, I am reminded once again of how my friends and myself, as we pass this turning point in our lives, as we move into our thirties, into mid-life and beyond, more and more of our parents, our aunts and uncles, our friends, and others around us are starting to get sick, to pass away. It’s not exactly surprising, but it’s unfortunate that a more frequent piece of news over the past few years is that somebody’s mother is sick or somebody’s father just passed away. That an aunt has just been diagnosed with breast cancer or an uncle suddenly had a stroke.
I’m no stranger to sickness, to disease. Throughout my life, I’ve seen close relatives struggle with cancer, diabetes, and general ill health, and certainly, I’m aware of my own mortality as I face the truth of genetics and heredity and must always be on guard for signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and breast cancer. So, it’s not really my own mortality that frightens me when I hear news of my friend’s stepfather passing away or another friend’s stepmother being diagnosed with lukemia or, today, my aunt passing away. It’s more the realization that the people that have been such a fixture in our lives may suddenly not be here anymore. Suddenly, it’s the realization that while we are young and energetic, afraid of nothing and living with the idea that it’s too early to get married, it’s too early to have kids, it’s too early to be tied down, that our parents and other older figures in our life, many of them are entering the winter of their lives and may not be around to see us do all the things we think we are too young to do yet. And while we may not always like them or enjoy their company or welcome their involvement in our lives, we suddenly realize that their heretofore constant presence may not be present someday anymore.
When we begin to see our contemporaries pass away, we are struck by the reality of our own mortality, but when we begin to see our elders pass away, we are struck with the reality of our own adulthood, of responsibility. That even if we don’t always like the role our elders play in our lives, they are a part of our lives, our history, and that when they are suddenly, or not so suddenly, taken away from us, we wonder if we said all the things we had to say, heard all the things we needed to hear, took care of all the things we needed to take care of. We come to the realization that we do not have an infinite amount of time to say all those things, hear all those things, and take care of all those things. We do not have forever to make peace with adversarial parents or give back to them in some meaningful way while they are still alive to appreciate it, for us to see them appreciate it, rather than when it is too late. And we are reminded that someday, perhaps sooner than we might like, we will be somebody’s parent or aunt or uncle and that we will not be somebody’s child forever.