Death has been a busy bastard this week.
He caught up with me, delivering two sucker punches. I gasped, blindsided, not once but twice, at news that friends had succumbed to cancer. Only 69 years of age, first musician David Bowie and then actor Alan Rickman left our world.
No, I didn’t actually know either man. I’m just a fan. Yet we inhabit this weird universe where images and sounds experienced via electronic means endear to us those we’ve never met. As their virtual friend, I mourn Bowie and Rickman in all their beloved incarnations.
They say that Death makes his visits in threes and I’m sad because he’s still lurking around, waiting. Two families — comprised of actual flesh-and-blood friends of mine — are dreading his knock, each with an ailing mother. One is a beloved matriarch at the end of a long, rich adventure of some nine decades; the other, a woman stuffed full of life’s zest who, having kept cancer waiting for years, is leaving far too soon.
I know Death’s visit is natural and eventual but it’s seldom fair. He’s loathe to give much advance warning and rarely arrives at the right time. He barges in, unannounced, or overstays his welcome, lingering. Too soon, too late, too hard, too sudden. And when his ugly toadie Disease tags along, those bullies gang up and the fight gets downright dirty.
Where are the good deaths, the righteous ones at the end of a long, full span of years, where our beloveds sigh blissfully, “It’s time. I’ve lived and loved and made my peace, so please, now — I’m glad to go”?
Maybe Bowie and Rickman breathed those words this week. After all, what seemed sudden and unanticipated to me may have been welcomed with advanced warning and time for closure with loved ones. I hope so.
As for those here waiting, my fervent wish is that their mothers meet a gentle, kind Death. And afterward, I hope to hold my friends’ hands and help them remember. And smile.
To listen to a reading of this poem from the Poetry Foundation: