Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Death and Life

Yesterday I was in the west palm beach airport waiting for a flight back to Boston. I had some time before boarding and the wifi was free. I took out my ipad and checked out facebook.  There I saw a notice from the wife of a dear friend.  She was reporting that the older brother of my bud had passed.

I was stunned by this news. I knew that Maurice had been in ill health, but I'd seen him just a couple of years ago at Fran's son's wedding and he looked as if he was on the rebound.  At one point during the reception, Maurice took the saxophone from a band member and banged out a pretty good "when the saints go marching in".  I remembered when I first met Maurice and I played back my memories and felt for my pal.

I called Fran today and we spoke for a spell.  Shortly after we began talking he told me that his best friend, someone I've known for forty years, died suddenly last month.  This was even more startling than the news about Maurice. Angelo was the life of the party, always. Very clever, gregarious, just a delightful guy. I'd seen him also at Fran's son's wedding and spent a good bit of good time conversing with him.  Then Fran also told me that a cousin of his whom I knew, had perished shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Three shots to the gut in six months.  He told me that I better take care of myself because he did not want to attend another funeral for a stretch.  We laughed some and promised to make sure to get together this summer. And we will.

Then later today I did some sleuthing on the internet. I wanted to get in touch with one of my parents' oldest friends because I needed to relay some news.  I wanted to contact the woman who lived on the first floor of our Brooklyn apartment building. She, a pal of my mom's, and her husband--a pal of my dad's--had acted like another set of parents for me and my brother. Her husband had passed many years ago, and I knew that she was in her 80s.  The nature of my news was such that I wanted to make sure that she was feeling well enough for some sad news.  I recalled that one of her sons was a jazz musician.  I went on the internet and wrote to him. Then I saw something that made me start googling.  And what I found was again unsettling.  This woman's 57 year old son, the jazz musician, had passed a year ago.  And I've known for thirty years that her other son had died in his early thirties.

I had been sitting in the West Palm Beach airport because my father lives nearby. And about two weeks ago, we buried my dear mother after she had fought like the fighter she always was, but eventually succumbed to the residual effects of a stroke.  My brother and I had gone to Florida for dad's day and were ourselves trying to get through the effects of the loss of our mother who had an influence on not only us, but on so many others that the chapel in south Florida--even in June--was packed with those there to pay their respects.

So, death seems to be in season. Fran's brother, cousin, and best pal.  My parents' Brooklyn friends' young son.  And my mother.

Seems like a maudlin subject.  But I will take another perspective and it is not a Pollyanna approach, but my genuine sense.

My cousin wrote the other day that in California funerals are rarely so named, but rather are called Celebrations of Life.  And that resonates with me.  Loudly.

The end of life is, of course, sad--but it is an opportunity to celebrate the life of the deceased and what that person contributed to life.  My mother is alive in me and, to a lesser extent, so is Maurice and Angelo and Wade and Gregory.

Besides, death serves as a clear and as a loud reminder of the precious gift of life.  The time we the living have is time to do nothing other than take advantage of the multiple opportunities of life.  As I type now, the background music is playing the Beatles' "Here, There, and Everywhere." It is a beautiful love song. Those who have died are here, there, and everywhere, and reminding us that we the living must immerse ourselves in the available love and life that is here, there, and everywhere.


  1. Sorry to hear about your Mom. I was visiting my parents in Lantanah on June 2nd. Just south of West Palm. My Mom's 94th birthday, same day as their 70th anniversary. They're in the same facility in different wings. My Mom doing great in assisted living, my Dad in the nursing home branch with the look of death in his eyes. I am somehow more fortunate than you in that my relationship with my parents was far more "limited" to put it nicely. Maybe I'm delusional, but felt very little sorrow looking at my Dad curled up in a diaper in his bed. Lost my best friend from Albany days last spring to pancreatic cancer. Think I mentioned that to you in an email. I don't think you knew him. Felt very little then. Don't think I'm a sociopath because the untimely death of "some" of my kids and grandkids would devastate me. Hope your Dad has plenty of good years left in him.

  2. Thanks Gene. We were pretty close on the 2nd. My dad is about fifteen minutes south. I do think you told me about the Albany friend. I have a recollection of looking him up in the yearbook after you first told me. Hope you and the rest of your family are doing well. Keep hearing great things about Austin by the way.