I’m going to create some posts that will become part of a book I’m writing to, and for, my daughter. This is one of those posts.
I don’t have a fear of dying.
Maybe it’s because I know it’s inevitable, so having fearful thoughts about it doesn’t help anything. It certainly won’t change my eventual outcome.
Knowing I’m going to die doesn’t necessarily make me want to “live more fully” because I already know that my life is beautiful and full for more reasons than I can count.
I do have one feeling about death, though, and it is this: I am sad that I won’t be by your side to comfort you in your grief.
Last night, I was trying to find something to watch on Netflix to help me relax a little bit. I noticed that the old TV show “M*A*S*H” — from the 1970s and 1980s — had been added to their streaming service. As soon as I saw the photo of the cast, I was thrown back into a memory from when I was about 11 or 12 years old.
At that age, I was living in Corona del Mar with my parents in a lovely home near the beach. One of my favorite things to do was roller skate. I was truly addicted to it. The only problem was, our neighborhood was really hilly. It didn’t stop me from roller skating outside, but there were times when I just wanted to practice my skating and try doing little tricks and things.
I asked my parents what I could do, and they said, “Why don’t we set up our garage as a mini skating rink for you?”
Wow, that was amazing! They moved the cars out of the garage, brought a record player out there and moved a few things closer to the walls to give me more floor space space, and there it was: my own personal roller skating rink.
My mom used a corner of the garage for one of her hobbies, wood carving. My father had bought her a lovely set of carving tools, and she made all kinds of things, like wall hangings and little toys. Over her carving desk hung a poster of the cast of the TV show “M*A*S*H.” It was her absolute favorite show, a comedy — as weird as that sounds — all about an emergency medical unit during the Korean war. She loved the star, Alan Alda, and she never missed an episode. I always thought it was kind of funny that my mom bought that poster and put it there, as it was a little out of character for her. As a contrast, she also watched the soap opera “Days of our Lives” every day but didn’t have that poster on the wall.
So I skated around and around in circles, listening to my records of Burt Bacharach songs like “Say a Little Prayer” and “What the World Needs Now is Love” — those are still some of my favorites — and I would see that poster on the wall as I made each revolution. Even then, I felt like I was getting some insight into my mom: like that she always wanted to be a nurse but got married, instead, and worked government jobs to help support the family. Then when I was born, I guess she figured it was too late, so she stayed home with me. Maybe in watching that show she imagined herself helping people, too.
I never asked her about that. I wish I had.
When I clicked the “play” button on Netflix to watch the pilot episode of “M*A*S*H,” I couldn’t make it through more than about 10 seconds of the theme song before I broke down into tears. Massive, heaving grief poured out of me for about five minutes. Over and over again, I said, “I miss you, Mom. I need you, Mom. I love you, Mom.”
My mom died in 1992, when I was 30 and she was 72. As I’m writing this, I’m coming up on 23 years of living my life without her physical presence. But I still have moments where the grief feels just as deep as it did the day she died.
I know that one day you’ll feel that kind of grief, too. Once it clears, there is a bittersweet happiness that comes in, too: an emotion that encompasses the pain of loss but the joy of feeling loved by someone and loving them more than you ever thought you could.
My only regret about having to die one day is that I won’t be there to hold you in my arms when you are feeling that grief, to tell you that it’s OK, and that I love you.