Written April 30, 2010 -
As I approach the age of 45, I realize that death is not a stranger to me. In one way or another, it seems to have surrounded me my entire life. It may sound strange and morbid, but it is something of a fact and it began quite early for me. Having attended my first remembered funeral at the age of 7, I can’t even begin to count them all.
While my memories are clouded by time, some of my earliest are of my grandmother. She was not a young woman, having given birth to her only child at the age of 34 (in 1927). Born in 1894, that was considered quite old for her time. She had been widowed before I was born and was diagnosed with cancer before I entered first grade, dying in 1972 at the age of 78.
Over the years, I attended many more funerals, both human and animal. Pets were abundant in our household and most were buried in our back yard, with all of us in attendance. I even remember when my mom had to put her beloved Josephine to sleep after resuscitating her when she had a stroke and fell into the pool one night. We also had many cats and kittens, some dying early deaths and others living to be quite old.
In 1979, I broke my ankle a week after my father had elbow surgery. About a week after surgery to repair my ankle, my paternal grandfather died from a heart attack while in the hospital being treated for prostate cancer. I was unable to attend the funeral but remember when it happened.
There were numerous cousins whose funerals I attended over the years as well. I went everywhere with my mother for years. As the only child of an only child, mom's cousins were her closest family with most still living in the area surrounding the small South Georgia town where she grew up. Most were also older than my mother and every time we went to a funeral, we visited with family. While funerals and family seem to be a recurring theme, there were also several funerals related to co-workers and family friends.
With my mother’s passing in 2000, my attendance at funerals does not seem to have reduced. I have attended at least nine funerals since her death, five human and four family pets. While the human funerals are not easy, it seems that those of our beloved pets can move us the most deeply, even knowing in advance that their time with us is limited.
Sometime in the next year (probably less), I will attend another funeral. Cancer is not kind and writing this is a kind of grieving for me. I try not to dwell on it and I try to remain positive for those around me, but while death is neither friend nor foe, I know its face and it is no stranger.