Circles of Death


Most of my life I realize has already taken place. Still, I’m hopeful my time won’t run out soon. Both my parents lived ‘til a ripe old age, so it’s possible they’ve passed on what it is that could keep me going. At the same time I can’t but notice that all around me more people are dying than ever before. That’s no surprise since just as I’ve advanced in years so have most of the people I’ve known in my life. Attending many a funeral in recent years has confirmed that fact.
Don’t include me among those who dwell on this state of affairs. I’m not the type who reads the daily obituary section, scanning the names of those who have passed away and, at what age. I do, however, glance at my college’s alumni newsletter and take note of classmates who’ve recently died. Almost every issue gives notice of such ongoing losses.
Deaths affect me and probably most others in similar fashion. Many of us relate to the passing of well-known figures long in the public spotlight. We’d somehow come to rely upon their continued presence, appreciated what they’d come to represent and helped to define formative periods of our life. For me, someone like Jerry Lewis (d. 2017) would be such a representative figure. Or they epitomized a memorable era. Muhammed Ali (d. 2016) surely filled that role. Or like Carl Sagan (d. 1996) and Stephen Hawking (d. 2018) who both enlarged the boundaries of human thought. The deaths of public figures or celebrities rarely leave us grief stricken, but does produce an empty feeling, narrowing our world, reminding us of what once was and will not again be. (Though, now in the era of You Tube, we’re able to bring back many of these celebrated figures. Why mourn Frank Sinatra when we can access so many of his stage performances over the years. Alive or not, we can still thrill to his artistry and presence.)
Then, there are the deaths of those who were acquaintances, parents of friends, former colleagues, people whom we’ve known at some point in our life, including members of organizations to which we belong. We are saddened by news of their passing, especially if their lives were cut short, if their deaths were sudden or unexpected, or if they succumbed to some dreaded ailment or disease. The first of such deaths move and disturb us, but once more and more of them occur, such events become the new “normal.” At this stage you’re attending funeral after funeral, the rituals and procedures, growing familiar. We encounter people from previous funerals – hear the details of the last days of life – express condolences to family members, inject personal anecdotes and recollections of the deceased, listen to prayers, hear family members extol the virtues and achievements of their loved one, discover information about their lives hither unknown, and, if we enter the proper frame of mind, we may find ourselves reflecting upon the arc and direction of our own lives. The funeral over, we return to “life” and its daily rhythms and routines.
Then, there are persons who depart from this earth whose losses create a void, a dull ache, a hurt which recedes only with the passage of time. Good friends, neighbors, colleagues, relationships with all of them of long standing. We mourn the losses, feel sorry for ourselves as our life has been forever diminished. Mortality hits home, encouraging serious self-assessment and reflection. Nonetheless, these periods pass: life goes on. Memories remain, but they do fade, though on occasion conversations, photographs or reminiscences bring back precious details of past relationships.
Life ongoing provides the essential antidote to death, even as we face an ever tighter circle of death. The passage of years means more and more funerals will appear on our calendar. We become not insensitive, but rather more fatalistic. All of us inevitably are heading in the same direction to that ultimate destination. Time tables, however, have not been made available.

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