My great-grandfather died of cancer when I was four. I remember running around the funeral home with my first cousin once removed; I only know that’s his full title because we come from a family with overlapping generations due to surprise-40 babies. He was only a year older than me at the time. Neither of us knew much about death. We knew we liked to run in circles and laugh.
As a freshman in high school, a classmate’s mom died. It rocked our small community. On the day of her funeral, there was also a bomb threat at the school. I don’t know if that was so we could all go to the funeral or because someone didn’t want to finish their midterms. It snowed.
I sang at the graveside service for a boy who passed away in his eighth grade year when I was a sophomore. We sang the Alma Mater. I don’t remember the words now.
My first cat died during the week of finals my junior year of high school.
During my senior year of high school, my maternal-paternal great-grandparents passed away within three months of each other. A severe stroke in August, pancreatic cancer on Halloween. I remember answering the phone hanging on the wall, my fingers twisting in the cord, standing in my best friend’s kitchen after spending the night. I was wearing my cheerleading uniform; we had a competition later that day.
My great-great grandmother didn’t pass away until the summer after my freshman year of college. She already had knitted Christmas gifts, still six months away. At the funeral home, I learned that my first cousin once removed was friends with the brother of my high school into college boyfriend. The world felt small, safe.
While pregnant with my daughter, my sorority grandma’s dad died. Despite being on bed rest, I went to the funeral. Always go to the funeral. While pregnant with my oldest son, a sorority sister died in a horrific car crash. My husband accompanied me to the funeral home. I wish the casket hadn’t been open; I can still see the marks from the fire, the bruising, the way her pink suit didn’t cover the marks of what took her away from us at such a young age.
And then the deaths speed up and blur together. Prior to adulthood, they were separate entities, easily recalled because of their rare occurrence. A gentleman from church. An acquaintance’s mom. The father of one of my husband’s Army battalion members. My childhood dog. Friends’ mothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law.
My step-grandfather who I didn’t call a step-grandfather; he was just grandpa. A note about that one: Our sewer backed up into our first owned home on the same day. That’s not hard to forget, the two awful things smashing into one.
And then the deaths got worse, more personal.
My beloved grandfather, suddenly. My husband’s aunt, after a prolonged battle with ALS. His uncle, lung cancer. Three in three months. It felt like a cruel joke but no one was laughing. Death, death, death. Funeral, funeral, funeral.
That same summer, a friend. Too young. The anger began to build.
My second cat.
And then my most cherished grandmother. And my other grandmother. And then, nearly myself. Waves crashing atop one another; it’s hard to breathe through prolonged, sustained, never-ending loss.
It’s been almost a year since Biz left us. A picture of the six of us, impossibly young, still sits on my desk. This, the one that surprised me more than my grandfather’s heart attack; the only one for whom I did not attend a funeral, a memorial, anything. Sometimes it feels like she’s still walking among us, still here now.
Today a friend from the old guard, the early days of blogging. She beat the odds once, so knowing now that she’s gone-gone feels like an untruth, like maybe we’re waiting for a punchline. But she’s gone. And we’re still here.
It’s the friends dying that feels unsettling. Don’t misunderstand me. I spent five days last week hoping and praying my husband’s grandmother wouldn’t leave this Earth just yet. I’m not “okay” with losing my elders, the two generations responsible for my existence, my moral compass, my memories, parts of my future.
But losing those in my generation—my acquaintances, my friends, my kindreds, my loves—I don’t suppose that gets easier.
I remember watching my dad put on his suit. I don’t remember who died, just someone he knew as a child or a teen or a young adult or an older adult. I remember the lines on his face. I knew they weren’t best friends, but I knew it still pulled at him in ways that I didn’t understand. Not at that age.
I do now.
We are of an age now. We speak their names and bow our heads. They remain parts of us. Forever.