We all know that death is a part of life, but as a baby boomer today, it can uncover new emotions.
I think my personal experience might reflect what some boomers are experiencing.
While I’m blessed that my parents are still living, I’ve seen the loss of grandparents and my in-laws. And while there was sadness and grief, I was comforted by the fact that they had lived long lives.
Death was around in my teen and college years, too. I lost schoolmates to drug overdoses, car accidents and disease. But as I experienced those tragedies, I had the cumulative shoulders of my classmates to share my grief.
Until recently, though, it had been a long span between deaths, sort of like the epidemic of weddings I attended in my 20s and then their long absence until our friends’ children were ready to tie the knot.
Then I received news that Randi, my best childhood friend, had died. She lived in Pennsylvania with her husband and two dogs. Her breast cancer of 15 years ago had reoccurred and spread.
Before Randi’s death, that long span between deaths had me feeling, well, young.
Why? Because I know death is a regular visitor to older adults. My parents have said goodbye to too many of their friends, neighbors and classmates over the last few years.
I’m reminded of a lovely gentleman who came up to me after a presentation I gave. He introduced himself, told me he was in his 90s, had a lovely wife, still taught school and was blessed financially.
But he shared that he was profoundly depressed. He explained the loss of so many of his friends was more than he could accept. He couldn’t bear the loss of another friend and he thought maybe it was his time to go.
I had no words. What can you say to someone surrounded by so much loss?
I think Randi’s death will begin a new round of deaths for me. I fear more loss is on the horizon. My friends are dealing with older illnesses like diabetes, prostate cancer and mini-strokes. I grieve their loss even before they’re gone.
As if the loss of someone special weren’t enough, death in this digital age brings new issues to contend with. I found out by means of Facebook that my friend Randi had died. I am not a big Facebook user. I only look at it every month or so when I have a bit of downtime.
To find out that way was surreal, impersonal and shocking.
As I searched for my childhood friend, I saw Randi’s revised Facebook banner photo— an image of her two dogs looking out onto a pasture, figuratively grieving the loss of their “mom.” Tributes were bountiful. She taught show choir and touched many students and their parents.
What made me even more sad is that because I’m not a regular Facebook user and I live far from her, I learned Randi had died a month earlier. I wasn’t there to share in her husband’s, parents’ or stepsister’s grief. I couldn’t send flowers or find another way to acknowledge the big place she held in my heart.
While we weren’t friends who were in contact regularly, I wished so much I could have been there for her family when it happened.
America’s 76 million baby boomers are losing 4,900 of their parents every day. The deaths of friends and family remind us we are getting closer to our own final goodbye. And today grief has become more public and is shared with a wider network, from close friends to minor acquaintances.
It’s a new world for us boomers— one that will require some getting used to.