My friend’s wife is dying.
That’s about as simple as the situation is, and as horrible as it is. She is young, and was struck down by an illness that literally hits one in a million people. Her body has been slowly killing itself for the past four years, and my friend could do nothing but watch his wife slip away from him day by day with absolutely no chance for a cure. All he could do was be by her side and make her as comfortable as possible. Now, she has chosen hospice, and it is only a matter of time before I get the phone call confirming the inevitable. Thus begins another phase of my life, as friends begin to slip away from me.
When I was younger, I had experienced the deaths of many friends. This was the 70’s after all, and drugs and alcohol were rampant and we did stupid things…like drive while under the influence of SOMETHING. The first death of a close friend involved a closed casket, because most of his body was scattered all over the Staten Island Expressway. I had three friends hit the wall of a Deli on a sharp bend in the road while doing 80 miles an hour. All three died; one of them sat next to me just a few months prior at our High School graduation. Another friend died while committing suicide; another after contracting meningitis; and yet another after being struck by a car while on the way home from coaching a bunch of kids in Little League practice.
All of this happened by the age of 18. I had seen more than my share of funerals and wakes; so much so that I get ill sometimes while attending a wake. All funeral parlors smell the same to me; the sweet sickly smell of perfume and flowers covering up death; our own morbid way of somehow getting closure with the deceased. I do not mourn for the dead at these events. I mourn for the living; for the survivors and loved ones be they friend or family. I worry about how their lives will be, now that this one life was taken from them. I was at the age a few years ago of weddings, and births, and the occasional death of a parent or grandparent. Now I am approaching another phase of my life it seems, and it appears as if I may be entering a part of my life where I begin to lose my friends and family at a more rapid pace than before.
In a way I was a part of death on September 11th. I saw death and I walked upon its dust. In some strange way though, I never felt like I was going to die on that day…don’t ask my how or why, I just did. What I didn’t bargain for were the years of madness and alcoholism that followed, which I guess was my death in this life (the one I am conscious and aware of). I have a belief that there is something beyond this existence. I am a great believer of reincarnation, although I am not sure if you reincarnate on this earth or another place. I believe that were are a part of the Universe trying to understand itself and that each of us help it to do so as we struggle to understand ourselves. I cannot imagine the meaning of my life without that belief, but it has taken me a number of years to come to that conclusion. Perhaps I am wrong, and when my life ends it will be the simple extinguishing of an insignificant flame on some insignificant planet in the corner of the galaxy. For now, anyway…I have my beliefs. I guess you could say they give me some comfort; and there’s more to tell you as to why, but let’s just say one day I was given an glimpse into something wonderful and leave it at that.
So in a few days, perhaps longer…who knows…I will be on a plane to Arizona. I will be scared out of my wits (I hate to fly), Xanaxed to the hilt, and desperately trying to keep it all together on the way out there. Once I arrive, I’ll be fine but then comes my role as a friend. I know damned well he’d do the same thing for me if the roles were reversed; but this is when you know someone for over thirty years, and you have passed through many of the phases of your lives together. Although we had been in sporadic contact over the past few years, we remain friends. We were at each others weddings; my wife and I would double date with he and his wife often (including a most memorable 31st birthday for me). He is one of the most philosophical and deep thinkers I have ever met in my life, and yet I do not know how he is going to react to this. I do not know what kind of service it will be, because neither of them were religious in a traditional church-going manner. If I had my guess, it would probably be a small memorial service knowing their low-key personalities. No matter how it is conducted, and no matter who attends it regardless of individual belief systems, I only know that I seek comfort and am confident in one thing.
Her time done, she will have moved onward to the next phase.