Musings and Reflections
Recently I lost another great friend, Rudy Rosa, who merely a year ago seemed quite healthy. Rudy was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, stage four, early in 2014, which meant that he had a year or less to live. I thought about creating yet one more eulogy, but then as I thought about it I realized that his death hit me far harder than I would have expected. And I had missed over forty years of his life. The point is that Rudy and I were great friends during our teenage years but after that we went our separate ways. Over forty years passed from the time I knew him as a young man and the time I went looking for him via the Internet back in 2007 to make contact. Thus, about seven years ago I did find Rudy and we had a great time renewing our friendship, but mostly at a distance, for he lived in Florida and his life circumstances precluded him traveling on distant vacations. I believe I saw Rudy five or six times when I was visiting Florida, so you can understand that we didnít have a lot of opportunity to do things together as we did when we were young. My eulogy, were I to make one, would mostly have to address the distant past.
So exactly why did his death hit me so hard? As I reflected in a very depressed state I figured out that the wonderful memories of things Rudy and I did together were unique and uncommon and a key part of what I will call my roots. A similar situation occurred when my best friend, Morrie Shaffer, died in 2010, for Morrie and I were lifetime best friends starting around the age of twelve. Put the two deaths together and the result is that my two favorite friends from my hometown, the guys with whom I had my favorite memories, are gone. Now, as I picture the old neighborhood everything takes on a surreal cast. In my mind I am up high on the hill where Rudy lived, looking down on the small community, and the colors have faded to shades of gray. It is like the life we knew never existed because those people no longer exist. Thus the memories that were sweet when my friends were alive suddenly have become deep sadness. Our time in history was brief, and now it is gone. I remain. I feel very lonely losing my past, for now I cannot share the memories with the precise people with whom I made the memories. I am alone.
On the good side I have a wonderful mate, Peggy, whose very presence and loving ways blunt the pain and relieve the depression. Boy, does that ever point back to an earlier article I wrote when my now deceased wife, Marie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor! At that time I wrote about just how important the marital relationship is and how it is to be nurtured, honored and respected, and most especially enjoyed for as long as two people can be together. Well, I will deal with my current issues now and Peggy is and will be a large part of my return to enjoying life. But Rudyís widow, Sue, like Morrieís widow, also named Sue, has/had to face the terrible loneliness that comes immediately upon the death of oneís life partner. We may have our individual ways of dealing with grief but ultimately those of us who have gone through the experience, including my great friend Linda, who lost her wonderful husband, Joe, about one year ago,and my darling, Peggy, who lost her wonderful husband Ron four years ago, sure know the reality of deep emotional pain that does not subside easily, if at all.
Time blunts the pain but it never goes away. The deep sense of loss of meaning of life can be and frequently is, unfortunately, rather permanent. Thank goodness for the healing power of a new loving relationship! This aspect of dealing with the loss of great friends and loved ones is truly important. To point, I have never met a widow or widower who was in any way truly happy about life, day to day, in the absence of having a new loving life partner. If the marriage was good then living alone long after the death of a spouse is a pity, for remaining years that might be very fulfilling are wasted.
But what about finding new "best friends?" My experience tells me that inability to go back in time to do the things best friends did when they were young precludes ever having later really tight friendships with other same gender adults. That seems irrational, for if one can form a new love relationship then why canít a similar process occur relative to forming new friendships? That one stumps me. I know a number of nice guys but none of them can begin to take the place of my boyhood and later young adult friends. The reality of living life day to day as an adult limits the time and freedom to explore life with a potential buddy. Well, we do the best we can, so I form friendships that are good but internally, emotionally, limited.
Now I want to address a somewhat related but very different topic. As a young person I never really thought much about the eventual death of my grandparents, aunts and uncles and my parents. It was only when my paternal grandfather died and my paternal grandmother went to live in an "old folks home" that I began to realize that I couldnít ask all the questions and get answers about the past, in particular, their past lives and what they did and why and how. For some reason I let it go instead of seeking out the information while my grandmother was still alive. I didnít lack curiosity but somehow I never made the time to ask the questions.
With my parents my presumption of knowledge about them was wrong, as evidenced by the questions that arose in my mind after they died. It was too late to get the answers to those questions. It was too late to gain an understanding of essential aspects of their lives, including the emotional and physical experiences of aging and losing friends and loved ones. As my wonderful cousin, Joan, observed, I had become an orphan in my hometown. Oddly I find myself even today feeling like my parents could have done a better job alerting me to what was coming down the road in my future. Yes, in part it was my responsibility to ask and learn, but as I found out to my chagrin I had no idea how the life transitions from middle age to becoming old would be loaded with sad experiences, and even the sense that my time in this world was quickly becoming mostly a dusty memory.
I raise the above points because I want my children and grandchildren and other friends to have an awareness far superior to my own as I transitioned to become an older person ... one who had done most of the things I would ever do in life ... and one whose gradual physical decline and loss of friends and loved ones hits me hard today.
We have various epiphanies related to the aging and death of family and friends as they occur. For example, it becomes obvious why individuals can lose a sense of purpose in life when all the people they really cared about are gone or live at great distances. Death typically comes soon after, and though the reason isnít discussed, it becomes, finally, quite apparent why death became desirable at the most fundamental level.
Overall, I find it both interesting and disturbing how as a society we pretty much hide, at a personal level, from the reality of aging and death until we have no choice in the matter. If you think about it you will realize there is no such thing as any educational course taught to young people about the chapters of life and what they will mean and how to deal with the various realities when they happen. It is as if eventual death or the uncertainty of our individual futures is so scary that we pretend, while young, that it will not ever happen to us and to those we care most about. Perhaps the stark realization of the temporary nature of our existence would be too depressing and might result in young people never bothering to engage life fully in education, careers, love relationships, parenting, etc.
In a larger sense it is the existence of religions that promote the idea of an afterlife that helps societies avoid the chaos that could result from citizens being forced to realize the temporary nature of their personal existence. What this means is that the afterlife beliefs must be promoted as a stabilizing influence until such time as humanity learns how to control aging and support immortality. Our entire paradigm about the meaning and execution of life will change radically when that new opportunity becomes reality. In the interim, religious beliefs can in part, but not in total, compensate for the otherwise terrible sense of pointless loss that accompanies losing a loved one.
I want my children, grandchildren, other relatives and friends to better understand what will come eventually in their futures. I think they can deal with the realities of aging and eventual death without losing a sense of purpose in life. As a species we have a very large task in front of us. We would be fools to continue to allow aging and death to destroy each of us. I think that belief in the future of humanity is the underpinning that allows me to look at the sadness in my life at the present time with a firm sense of hope for our future.
Rudy ... I miss you!