Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Feeling my own mortality

I’ve lost four friends, of varying histories and degrees, in the last two weeks, and it’s making me feel my mortality and how quickly life can change. One was a man who, young and “finding himself,” lived with my family. If he didn’t work that day, he got no dinner that night; if he stayed up reading all night (and drinking wine), no dinner; we had “pick on Alan” nights, but it was all loving. He was the son of an older lady who had been good to me—always called me on each of my children’s birthdays, a remarkable act of memory and kindness. Later in our lives, Alan helped me through a rough patch—divorce and the selling of my dream house, but then we drifted apart and I hadn’t seen him in years until my oldest child married and I wanted to invite Alan’s mother to the reception we had in Fort Worth. I invited him because I knew she couldn’t come alone. We had a great time catching up. When his mom died, he called me the night before the obituary appeared to tell me and say, “I didn’t want you to read it in the paper.” So RIP Alan Burk. You will always have a corner of my heart.

Carolyn Bilyea was the wife of one of my ex’s surgical partners, and probably one of the most cheerful women I’ve ever known. David died many years ago, but Carolyn lived happily by herself and then in an assisted living facility. She called often and sent Christmas cards, which I don’t much do. So last Christmas, after the holiday, I made repeated attempts to call her—the switchboard put me through to her phone, I left messages, but nothing happened. I tried without success to talk to the switchboard people, and upshot was I never talked to Carolyn. I regret it to this day and regret that I didn’t do more to stay in touch with her.

I didn’t know Leah Flowers well, but we were in a Sunday school class together, and I can still see her singing with the choir at church, one of the things she most loved to do and was known for. I knew her husband, a professor of religion at TCU, through church and because I helped him with some publication questions and problems. And it seems like no more than six months ago but must have been longer that I had a lovely lunch with both of them. Alzheimer’s took Leah at a relatively young age, but from what I read on Caring Bridge hers was a peaceful decline—Ron let her sleep as much as she wanted—and she was surrounded by family and loving friends. Her death leaves a big hole in University Christian Church and TCU, where she worked for many years.

And then there was Jean Flynn, one of the wittiest, brightest, most caring women I ever met. Her husband and I worked together on several projects that he published with TCU Press, and I came to feel that he and Jean were family. She was always full of jokes and stories about what she had to put up with being married to her irrepressible husband. A respected writer in her own name, she always put Bob’s career ahead of hers. She wrote for young readers because, having been a school librarian, she felt there were not enough good and interesting books for young readers. But the funniest thing I ever saw of hers was a piece describing a camping trip they took to Alaska--decidedly unromantic from Jean's point of view. Rest in peace and rise in glory, Jean—you have left a vast empty space in many hearts.

Jean died about three weeks after an automobile accident which at first seemed not so serious, and we were reassured. All the writing community in Texas who loved her soon learned it was indeed serious. That she died in an accident—or as a result of—has brought home to me the fragility of life, the suddenness with which it can turn in a minute and be forever changed.

I’m quickly approaching my 75th birthday—in a little less than two weeks—and I have a friend, now in his eighties, who said his 75th was the hardest. I’m determined not to let it be hard on me, to go my way, aches, pains, deafness, lack of balance notwithstanding and continue to enjoy life, my family and grandchildren, my work, my dog and my house and be grateful to be in good health..

“But at my back, I always hear/Times winged chariot hurrying near.” Seventy-five is a good age…and a scary one.


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