On March 5th I got a text from my best friend telling me that her mother had died. It was expected, yet still shocking. Her mom had gotten sick and died in a matter of months. Cancer. Diagnosed in late November, dead by March.
I wept for my friend and her family. Then, I spent a good while staring out the window, wondering how she would get through this and how she would learn to live the rest of her life without a mother. How did anyone do this?
There was snow swirling outside. Another storm. By the end of the day, eight inches would cover the earth around my neighborhood.
There’s no other choice, I thought, that’s how people learn. They have no other choice.
A few weeks prior, I’d been updating another friend about our friend’s mother. “Isn’t it strange,” she remarked, “that we’re at the age where our parents are going to start to die?”
I jerked my head. We are not, I wanted to say sharply, but I knew she was right.
When we hear about the death of people who are in their sixties or seventies it’s not surprising unless it’s happening to someone we know, someone we love. Then, it’s always too soon and they’re always too young.
Life and death are unpredictable affairs, but there are certain expectations that we carry, certain numbers that float around in our head, numbers that we label as young and old. I’m only ___, I’m still young. When I get to be ___ I will be old, we tell ourselves, but when we get there, we never feel quite like we thought we would. The image of age never matches the feeling.
When I was in my early twenties, I had so many expectations about turning thirty. To be thirty meant to be grown up, to be settled, to know who I was, but when I got there, it wasn’t like that at all. When I got there, I was surprised to find that I was still full of questions and uncertainty. I was still myself, only older.
And now, seven years into my thirties, the only thing I know for sure is that the older I get, the more questions I have. For the most part, I feel much the same as I did in my twenties.
I’ve changed some, of course, but the essence of who I am—a writer, a reader, a person who loves to be in the ocean, who loves to be around friends, who loves to dance and laugh—all of these things are the same.
I am not not the version of myself that I thought I’d be, I’m just me. Hello 37-year-old self, strange to meet you.
My co-worker who is in his sixties is lucky enough to still have his mother. She’s in her nineties—a woman with a maddening stubborn streak, the kind of woman who calls to complain about pain in her knee, but refuses to take Ibuprofen. Sometimes, I hear my co-worker on the phone with her, his voice tinged with anger and frustration.
Once, I heard him yelling in harsh, accusatory tones. It made my stomach lurch. Part of me understood his exasperation, but another part thought, shame on you. She won’t be around forever. How can you not see this?
But I have no place judging him. Family relationships are complicated. They are full of history that is unknowable to outsiders, and besides, I too am guilty of having spoken to my loved ones in tones that I’d not dream of taking with a stranger. I’m no better.
But all of this happened in March. By the time you read this column, it’ll be April. Spring. My friend’s mom will have already been gone for a few weeks. She will have been laid to rest, and perhaps the daffodils will have begun to poke through the soil, as they do each year. Green stalks that blossom into bright yellow. Green stalks coming forth from the same earth where her mother now rests.
That is what each spring brings to us—new beginnings and rebirths—the whole earth full of budding life, tiny miracles. So that thing you’ve been meaning to do? Do it. That person you’ve been meaning to apologize to? Find the words. That sibling you’ve grown so far from? Call her.
Start over. Begin again.
Gay Life April 2015