I have known since 1976 that I will live to be 97 years old, just like my great-grandmother. I was 10-years-old when she died and at her funeral, I distinctly remember thinking wow, 97 is a fucking auspicious age to end on; I will do that too. (Yes, those were my exact thought words. I had recently discovered swearing and learned “auspicious” from Kung Fu re-runs). So just like that, it was settled; I would live to be 97.
Given this clarity, I have long had the opportunity to plan my death and later to plan our deaths because there’s no way in hell I’m letting The Hubby go before me. He doesn’t think that he is going to make it that long but I have given him strict orders to hang on as long as I do and after 30 years of marriage to this overbearing shrew, he’s pretty good at doing what he’s told.
So here’s how it happens: when he and I are both 97, we’re going to take a test drive in the most ostentatious, high performance vehicle we can get our withered, arthritic hands on and we’re gonna crash the shit outta that car a la Thelma and Louise, thereby dying instantaneously and simultaneously in a spectacular inferno. Our Kid doesn’t love the idea but it spares her the duty of taking us out into a field and shooting us when our dementia becomes too severe, so she’s basically on board with the plan. I have believed this scenario for so long, so irrefutably, that not even the tiniest glimmer of any other outcome ever seeped into my mind.
I mean, I guess I’ve always been vaguely cognizant that I could die younger than 97 but I never considered it a genuine possibility. Not even when The Hubby and I were 21 and we tallied up all the deaths we’d lived through and realized we had as many dead friends as we’d had years on this planet. Driving drunk on windy-ass country roads was a popular sport among our peers in 1980’s Kerrville, Texas and it often ended badly, but somehow I still didn’t think that dying was something that could happen to me. Not yet, anyway; I wasn’t 97.
I’ve continued to operate under that same expectation my whole life. Through losing countless more classmates and friends to cancer and alcoholism and suicide, through losing my mother, grandmothers, two mothers-in-law, eight aunts and uncles, I have wholeheartedly clung to my conviction that I will reach 97.
Then last week, my good friend, Becky, stepped out of her shower and had a massive stroke. She died five days later. She was only 63 years old, healthy, vital and eight days away from her wedding to the love of her life. She and her Beloved had just started construction of their dream home and had elaborate plans for continuing their awe-inspiring travels and living deliriously happily ever after, maybe even until they were 97. But then she was gone.
I don’t know why this particular Unfair and Untimely Death has broken through my stubborn resolve when none of the others did, but it has. Maybe it’s because I saw so much of me and The Hubby in Becky and her Beloved. I saw us in my parents, too, when my Mom died but they were our elders and Mom had always believed she’d die young so her passing didn’t thwart my nonagenarian plan. Maybe it’s because Becky was days away from realizing her dream and no one deserved that dream more than her. Or maybe it’s simply because I’m at a decidedly self-absorbed point in my life and I’m obnoxiously making everything about ME.
Whatever the reason, I am finally and for the first time, faced with the thought, I might not live to be 97. In which case, I should really consider getting my shit together NOW. Because if I die today or tomorrow or next Thursday, I don’t feel like my authentic true self will have been wholly expressed yet. Not even close.
I think Becky was closer to achieving that. She wasn’t done obviously, but she’d made an amazing go of it. Miss Becky was a second-grade teacher for 30+ years. She raised two children, was an immensely proud grandma and became a world class Golden Retriever breeder – one of her Goldens won Best in Breed at the Westminster. She was kind and loving and shared her radiant light with everyone she came into contact with no matter how briefly. B&B (Becky and Beloved) spent the last few years joyously exploring every corner of the globe and truly living their lives to the fullest. I know she wasn’t ready to go, she had so much more to give and enjoy, but I also know she was the happiest she’d ever been -- she told me so on many occasions. She was deeply content with the life she had led and what she had accomplished.
I can’t say that for myself. At this moment, I have roughly 27 unwritten books bouncing around in my head plus thousands of paintings, sculptures, hats, light fixtures and pieces of furniture that have never moved past the conception stage. I still need to lose 80 pounds and learn to be a runner. I have yet to become a beekeeper or a breeder of Great Dane service dogs. I have not created the 1920’s style dine-in movie theater, the children’s bookstore that doubles as a resource and tutoring center for dyslexic kids, the cookie-and-book-mobile or any of the other dozen businesses I want to start. I have not been to Ireland or New Zealand or Thailand or Italy. And don’t even get me started on how overdue I am in the personal growth realm (I could probably begin by getting a grip on the raging narcissism that has led me to turn a story about my friend’s death into my own public mid-life meltdown). What I’m saying is, I have a long way to go on all fronts and now I understand there may be at least a remote chance I won't have another 44 years to get there.
Becky’s beautiful, too-short life has brought into focus the aspects of my own life that I feel are incomplete; she has inspired me to do more and do better. She spent her last moments with her Beloved by her side, listening to their favorite music while he lovingly imagined and narrated to her every last detail of their never-to-be honeymoon. Her death was one full of warmth and peace and grace after a life well-lived. That’s a fucking auspicious death and I want mine to be like that; whether I’m 97 or not.
One of Becky's adorable Golden Retriever pups ❤️