My mother told me years ago that growing old was not for sissies. I smiled and nodded as if I knew what in hell the old girl was babbling about. In her seventies back then, she spoke remarkably well for a dinosaur. People generally make peace with growing older well, not so much with death. Men particularly, speak of death in much the same manner they do sex. They lower their voices an octave, speak knowingly and with levity. “Of course we’re all gonna die, such is the course.” Most any sane person will tell you death is inevitable but even the most highly educated, share the ‘out of sight, out of mind approach.’ Social norms are to a great degree why we purchase life insurance, but we privately believe that if we are in fact going to expire, it’s too early to be concerned with such a far off event.
As we grow older, we look at death differently. There is an inner sigh of relief upon hearing someone died of cancer and the event can be blamed on genetics, we don’t have. A work related heart attack? Time to threaten the kid’s IPOD time and put them behind the lawn mower. When skimming the Irish sports page, (obituary) we acceptingly nod at those much older, furrow our brow at those slightly our seniors and read in detail those our age and younger. At the age of twenty we refer to a fifty year old, gone to meet their maker as, ‘having lived a good life’. Our perspective refocuses itself commensurately with age.
One’s condolence at a funeral is sometimes remarkable. To the surviving wife: “I’m sorry for your loss.” Everyone in the room and contiguous counties, knows the guest of honor beat her for the past thirty years anytime she ventured too close to his recliner, without a beer or meal. We look at him ‘in state’ with feigned reverence, knowing he would be more recognizable in boxer shorts, tobacco dripping from his chin and spewing racist, sexist or any other ist from his mouth. A problem arises when the condolence comes without thought or rehearsal. “She was taken from us too soon.” The lady this shindig was called for, was one-hundred and seven years old.
Whether or not the death was expected is also a consideration. Some treat grief as a form of currency and as such should be doled out sparingly. “How did he die?” This is where the currency comes in. “He’s been sick for a year.” The proper response is a knowing nod, handshake or hug as appropriate. Grief in the bank. The old boy is better off. This teaches us that dying a prolonged death is not as grief worthy as strolling across the avenue and being run down by a cement truck. This untimely departure, calls for tears, firm handshakes and hugs all around. Grief is spent freely, like so many wooden nickels. Good luck in this life, I hesitate to tutor on the next.