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Lessons From An Early Death

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James Martin
July 27, 2012

Twenty-seven years ago today, my mother died. I was sixteen, she was forty-six; a year older than I am now. Her death was caused by a number of factors including a neurological condition, though not ALS.  The symptoms were similar to MS and Alzheimer's.  For the six months before her death she had no memory of me, my brother, or father.

That loss forever changed the trajectory of my life. Most of us are destined to bury our parents, it is the natural progression of life. That however, does not make it easier.  I can never know how my life would have differed if my mother had not died at such an early age.   Undoubtably I am a different person. 

At each milestone of my life I felt the absence of my mother;  graduations, wedding, holidays, and the birth/adoption of our children.  That is the greatest loss, my children never knew my mother.  (I was fortunate in that four of my children were able to know my father.)

With my diagnosis it is probable that my children will feel the same absence that I experienced.  But in some ways that loss has better prepared me for the last part of my journey.

The most important thing that I learned is that life goes on.  There will still be graduations, weddings, and future generations of children.  There will still be laughter, love, loss, pain, good and bad.  That is the beauty of life; though we are individuals, we are part of bigger things; families, churches, service organizations, etc. that carry forth the shared values we believe are important.  Those communities share in the life of our life.  

The other thing to remember is the family "oral history."  Our stories, our traditions, our recipes, our pictures, our heirlooms, all connect us through the generations.   Share them.  That was the primary reason we took our children to my hometown, to share my family history.  That is also why I no longer hide from my photo being taken and why I have tried to organize the documents, photos, and nick-knacks from my past and present.  I don't want that personal family history to be lost.

The final thing to remember is that words have meaning.  With family, always end the conversation with a meaningful "I love you." You never know what awaits the time that you will be apart, and caustic, bitter, or unloving words are a heavy burden to carry if they are the last thing you ever say.

So as I reflect on the anniversary of my mother's death I encourage you to think about the lessons I learned  from that loss.  Are you preserving and sharing your family history?  Are you part of something larger than yourself?  Do you think about what you say and how you end conversations with loved ones?



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