My dad’s youngest brother died this weekend, the unexpected and awful kind of death that’s like a boulder dropping into a pond and stirring up all the silt on the bottom. Wider family emerging out from under the edges of the pond where we live within bare sight of each other, layers stripped off to elemental sadness, grief, loss, connection.
It’s also the anniversary of my dad’s death, 22 years this week, and my youngest sister got married this weekend, in the same place my dad died.
We sisters (minus one, who was off somewhere) and my youngest niece danced to Sweet Caroline, alone on the dance floor, singing the Neil Diamond my dad loved and finding him in the space between us. (Happily for the other guests, we didn’t attempt a karaoke version. This time.)
I turned 49 last month, and I’ve been fighting it. I’ve always felt a little trowel digging at my ease around the end of my 40s — my dad died at 50, and despite the longevity of the women in my family, past 50 has always felt a bit “there be dragons.” I’ve been delving into multi-coloured threads about all of the reasons — unfinished conversations of one kind or another, encounters with places where I left knots and tangles when I could have found moments of grace. Regrets, rhythms learned two beats too late. All important and true. And I finally realized I was also just *pissed off* at turning 49.
Two weekends ago, I was with a group of women who are very important to me. We gather in southern Arizona, where the sun flattens the ground and small mountains fringe us, where three of the six of us live. We talk and cook and walk, and I hike with Linda, and we find meaning between us. We talk hard and focus and we talk easy and fluid. They helped me remember what resources I do have, which I’d lost track of some. And talking with them — my age, a little older, a little younger — I realized how much part of my churn was about not really wanting to be 49, but wanting a some-time-earlier do-over. With, you know, all of the wisdom I supposedly have now.
Part of me is almost 50 and knows full well and fine what it means to be 50, and part of me is a stompy little girl who doesn’t want the sweep of life to be true. Grace has never been my strong suit. Knowledge always seems to come to me through some wrestling, wind-knocking-out jujutsu. A 7 year old kicking with no technique into the air, knocking myself onto my back.
All of my grandparents have been gone for years. Of my five biological uncles and my dad, four have died. My contemporaries are dealing with illness, spouses with physical diagnoses, fragile and life-ebbed parents, serious questions about money and retirement and the fear that comes from there. I’m 49. I’m fit and healthy and I can make 49 mean mean whatever I want it to mean, but I’m 49.
The news about my uncle’s death threads its way to each of us mostly digitally, Facebook messaging and texts and email and IM, with a couple of carefully placed phone calls to pre-empt the unexpected. Digitally or not, though, we talk to each other instead of skimming by. Chatting with my only cousin who’s older than I am (50 the week I turned 49), he said something about the value of my knowledge and insight for the family. It made me tear up — I haven’t been feeling so knowledge-y, so insight-y, so strong. “Really,” I said. Yep. “You count as one of the adults that we’ve all forced ourselves to become when all the uncles died,” he said.
That’s it right there.