A cousin of mine on my mother’s side died a few weeks ago while traveling abroad on business.
He was a smart, funny guy, easy to like, and his passing came as a rude shock.
I think my folks felt the loss especially deeply, more so than I did. They were closer in age to my cousin than I was, and had more opportunity to connect and interact with him as adults. (I was usually one of the kids in the room when I was around him.)
My parents are also a decade older than my cousin was, and I think his death struck them as a reminder of mortality.
Of course, they already knew life doesn’t last forever. But as they get into their 70s, maybe these farewells register a little bit more than they used to.
(The last time I sat in with my dad’s college band, one of the other members mentioned that he’d recently attended the funeral of a high school friend, and noted that these things were becoming more frequent.)
This week’s calendar entry is the result of extrapolation. I don’t know for sure what was going through my grandparents’ heads.
But I’m guessing they went to bed this night feeling some of the same twinges of aging and mortality that my parents seem to have recently experienced.
Jeanie Taylor was my grandmother’s best friend from Springfield, Mass., going back at least to junior high and maybe to elementary school. My dad says:
She was a fun-loving woman of Scottish ancestry whom I think worked for Mass Mutual (or some such insurance company), owned a car, and before [my grandfather] intervened the two of them would hop in the car and travel. I have photos from a summer cottage somewhere in New England, Niagara Falls, etc.
Jeanie was very tall, never married, and pretty much always had a smile. She visited us many times in Stamford.
She shows up every once in a blue moon on the calendars from the ’60s and early ’70s.
I also have pictures from the late 1950s that show her vacationing with my family, indicating how close she stayed with my grandma into adulthood.
Fourteen years to the month after this picture was taken, my grandma’s best friend was admitted to the hospital in Springfield. (That’s my grandma’s handwriting on the first calendar entry above, taking note of it.)
I don’t know what the problem was, but it seems to have been serious.
Jeanie Taylor died a little more than a month later, on Aug. 15, 1973. She was 58 — about six months younger than my grandma, and four years younger than my grandfather.
Usually I have some sort of perspective to add to these excursions I go on; but not this week. I’ve never lost anyone my age to whom I was that close. One or two acquaintances and former colleagues I still think of here and there, but no really close friends.
I can only guess what it feels like to lose someone that close, or to come close to losing them. A cold chill, maybe, or a nagging fear that won’t go away.
I’ll know what it’s like someday — unless I go first and leave my friends with the feeling, which I suppose is a possibility.
For now I can only sympathize with my grandmother, decades after the fact, as she faces the possibility that time is running out on her perpetually smiling best friend … and by extension on herself, and the man she loves, and others she’s known well.
This “life” thing, it cuts you down at the knees sometimes.