GO GENTLY INTO THE GOOD NIGHT
Sunset....night soon will come
Crossing the Bar
Personal Note: I wrote this piece 16 years ago for a local association journal. Although quite dated, the feelings I had then have come full circle, now that I am on the cusp of entering my "olden" years and all that it implies. I also just became (after a long and interminable wait) a first time grandfather when my eldest daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Devin.
Eighteen years ago when I was 28 years old, thoughts of the grim reaper kept creeping up from my sub-conscious while I was engaged in the most mundane of tasks, like waiting for the bus to go to work, or shopping at the grocery store, or watching Lucy on television. That these thoughts started early on was, to say the least, disconcerting but not for the usual reasons of not having ever done anything yet of significance in my life, or of losing the chance at making good on a great deal of its untidiness. I thought that this premature preoccupation with death unrelated to any suicidal ideation--- on the contrary to dread of it, had to do with the unbearable feeling of not knowing, if I die early, how my children were going to turn out when they become adults themselves and have responsibilites of their own.
Now that middle age has started to creep in, the dread that I used to feel 18 years ago has been replaced with, I must admit, a still less than serene acceptance of the inevitability of death. This is partly due to the fact that my responsibility to ensure that my children obtain the basic attitudes toward experiencing a meaningfully lived life is still ongoing and will not be completed until after they all have become responsible adults. At the same time, the other reasons mentioned above are just now starting to loom larger and larger in the horizon. I have begun to ask myself-- what have I done so far for me to say that life, outside of my family, has meaning beyond the obvious, i.e. taking care of of sick and not so sick children? Do I and will I have time enough to say the final grace note of sorry, goodbye, and thank you?
The pace of self-questioning and sel-examination quickened somewhat when my eldest daughter announced, during one of her episodic breaks away from college, that she and her current steady have decided to get married. It dawned on me several days later that I was not ready to do a Steve Martin bit of acting wild and crazy, like any father of the bride the first time around, and indeed would not be ready until another 10 years. Her getting married so soon is certainly not going to help me fend off the arrival of full blown middle-agehood. The arrival of a baby, which I assume would come sooner than later, could conceivably complicate my attempts to live the remainder of my life in as dignified a way as possible. Arguably, there is nothing to dignify ones life when, while baby-sitting, one has to change a dirty diaper at 12 midnight, or calm a colicky baby at 3:30 a.m. or prepare a bottle of formula at 5:00 a.m.
I could imagine that being a grandparent and its attendant "chores" would be daunting. On the other hand one could experience the haunting even dignified rewards of grandparenthood...... you know, the excited half-gurgling half-cooing sound of a baby upon waking up in the morning, or the pitter-patter of small feet when a toddler sneaks behind you to give you a sudden gleeful hug, or the pride of the pre-schooler who shows you the finger painting so close to your face that the still wet colors smudge you eyeglasses.
The circle, it appears, is close to becoming a full one, and now that I find myself facing the prospect of being a grandfather, the possibility of facing old age, and by inference, death, in the not too distant future does not seem as dreadful as it used to be 18 years ago. I may yet be able to comprehend the reality that doing something significant in my life may not involve anything more than being able to make a difference in the lives of my grandchildren.
My only wish, when the time comes and I'm face to face with the grim reaper, is for my doctor friends and peers to allow me the dignified, gentle, gracious and short journey into the night that I so well deserve.