Don’t Cry Because It’s Over by Margaret Hart
I don’t do well with death. I would argue no one does, except for maybe an undertaker. Even if you know it’s coming, are you ever prepared? For me, there’s something about death that makes me really uncomfortable. I think that’s because I usually start to take stock of my own life, thinking about what’s behind me, as well as what lies ahead.
Over the last two weeks, I mourned the death of a former coworker and friend who passed away at age 45. Brian leaves behind his wife, two young children, his parents and siblings, and countless relatives and friends. He was the second editor I hired when I was building an editorial department at a business research firm in New York in the 1990s. Together with my first hire, a talented young woman, the three of us became a team. I was the boss, but only a handful of years older, so we became friends outside the office. I lost touch with Brian over the years, but kept abreast of his life through mutual friends. By all accounts he was happy and successful. His death came as a shock to everyone. Sudden cardiac arrest.
Brian’s passing made me reflect on so many things: my life in the ’90s, and how much it has changed since then; how much time I have left on this earth; how awful it for his children to lose their father; how awful it would be for my son to lose me, or his father; how fragile we all are; and how I really want to live each day to its fullest. I try.
This past weekend, I mourned the death of another kind. A close girlfriend lost her beloved family pet of 13 years, a Black Lab named Daisy. Her name suited her. I knew Daisy had been diagnosed with liver malfunction within the last two months, but at a party at my friends house two weeks ago, she was running, fetching, playing, and enjoying everyone’s company, especially the kids. Things seemed to be looking up. Then, last Thursday, I got a phone call. “Can you take the kids?” My friend was on her way to the vet with Daisy for the last time. I got a big lump in my throat. I have been in that situation and I know how painful it is. I am more of a cat person, but I loved Daisy. She was a sweetheart.
Daisy’s death reminded me of my beloved Tabby, Vern, who passed away in 2009. He came into our lives at three months of age, and left us at the age of 15. I flashed back to the day we took him to the vet. As I cradled him in my arms, he turned his head to look up at me. It was as if he knew. And he was telling me it was okay. I was a wreck for months. I have since talked with my girlfriend about the heartache of losing a pet, about the guilt of wondering if you did all you could, and the overwhelming sadness at the hole in your life. Again, I thought about all the pets I had growing up, and then those that I’ve had as an adult. It never gets easier when it’s time for them to go.
You know the saying about things coming in three’s? Well, this week my husband got an email from the wife of a good friend and former colleague of his named Ned. Her husband has passed away. His wife had all she could do to put together a memorial service for family and a few close family friends. Now she was going through Ned’s contacts and notifying everyone else. It was heartbreaking news, but not totally unexpected. Ned had been diagnosed with throat cancer about six months ago, had surgery at a top hospital in New York City and was doing well. My husband emailed back and forth with him post surgery, and he was undergoing chemotherapy and responding well. He felt good. He was back to work. Then, suddenly, last Thursday, he died in his sleep.
I met Ned and his wife years ago when my husband and he worked together. They were a lovely couple. We got together for dinner and drinks in Manhattan, and they came to dinner at our house. I’d also met up with my husband and Ned at the Oyster Bar (a famous restaurant and bar in Grand Central Station) for drinks after work. Ned was wickedly funny, highly intelligent, and a superb writer. He was a neat person. I liked him a lot. He was just 68. In addition to his wife, he leaves behind two grown children, other family members, and many friends.
Brian’s death made me think about my life and how my son would do if I were to leave too soon. Thinking about Daisy made me wonder how my son will handle the death of our new cats, Benny and Rocky, who, if we’re lucky, might live until my son graduates from high school. And thinking about Ned brought on thoughts of my parents, who are in their late 70s. I know so many of my generation who have already lost a parent. My mother must know that I am afraid of her leaving me. She sometimes jokingly tells me, “I’m not going to be around forever, you know,” as if to prepare me. Yes, I know. I also know that I will not do well when that time comes. I’ve already told my husband he will have to commit me.
People say when one door closes, another opens. People say we should not cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened. I agree. But I’m also with Woody Allen, who says: ” “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”