Last night we went to the annual “80s-90s Dinner” sponsored by the Caddo Community Association. It’s an evening set aside to honor the senior citizens in our community and to celebrate their marriages and families. It was an enjoyable evening, filled with laughter and stories, but I knew as I photographed the crowd that some of the guests may not be around to attend the next dinner. When you gather a group of people ranging in age from 80 to 96, you know their days are numbered. Last year’s oldest guest only lived a few months beyond that night.
There have been several deaths this year in our community and within my little circle of close friends. A friend’s mother died just this week and I join them in mourning her loss. It is difficult to be suddenly bereft of anyone, but to lose a mother is to lose part of one’s soul. We seldom realize how important our mothers are until they are gone, and you know I am speaking from experience. My own mother has been gone for ten years and there are still times when I wish I could talk with her.
I think about death a lot since I spend so much time researching history and genealogy. Just today I typed the obituary of Charles Turnbull, who ironically died when he came here from Arizona to attend his brother’s funeral. There are many other death stories that make me stop and pay attention. It’s remarkable how many people die shortly before or after their own birthday (like my grandparents John and Della), or on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. A friend’s parents died, of different causes, within hours of each other. And the way we die can vary from traumatic and tragic to peaceful and welcome. Some people fight death despite pain and disability and hardship, while others with fewer problems take their own life.
I don’t mean to be particularly maudlin. In fact, my intention was exactly the opposite. As I looked at the crowd last night my behavior changed because I was aware of the fact that I might not see some of these people again. I didn’t just enjoy my dinner and make small talk with my neighbors. I made it a point to speak to several people who have been friends of my family for decades. I visited with women who knew and remembered my mother. I took photos that showed them having a good time- because that is the way most of them want to be remembered. That is the way I would want to be remembered. These people are at an age when they know this may be the last time they are together. Perhaps if we all lived that way we would be much more appreciative of our friends and relatives. Perhaps we would find less to argue about and more to celebrate.
Look closely at the next person you meet and consider that this may be the last time you see them. Then act accordingly. I just image you will both feel better.