Facing our own mortality

We often talk about children and teens and how they tend to think they’re immortal, that they have this, “It can never happen to me” sense about them when it comes to doing certain things. There’s a bravado that children have, probably through the innocence of not having seen anything prove it wrong, that lets them believe they will live forever.

Today I’ve discovered that I have lived a bit with that “never happens to me” belief, as well. Oh, not by living vicariously and riding my bicycle down a steep hill to take the jump at the bottom or swinging on a rope over a boulder-filled lake.

No, this mortality comes in the form of disease, age and death. I learned this morning that the sister of one of my very best friends in middle school and high school passed away yesterday. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last November and, according to Janie, her sister and my childhood friend, the disease moved quickly.

Idona Branstuder, Janie’s older sister, was a bit older than we were – Janie’s parents had two children, Charles and Idona, and then when the older two were in high school had two more, Janie and Nina – but not much. Her obituary lists her as 60, which seems far too young for the evils of Alzheimer’s to creep in. And Janie, who like me is 44, seems much too young to be losing a sibling to such a crippling disease.

My heart goes out to Janie and Nina and the rest of the Tate family in northwestern Missouri. It’s stories like this that truly make my heart ache. I’ve not yet reconciled myself with the idea that my friends and cousins and others my age are facing the real possibility of losing their parents, nor have I come to see the true age of my own parents. My dad and I were talking about aging the other day and I realized that at 72, he is considered elderly – yet when I hear media reports of an “elderly man” of 70s doing something, I shake my head in disbelief.

I know, logically, that we are aging. That it’s been 26 years since my family moved from that small town in Missouri and Janie and I went from hanging out after school to writing letters once in a while. Yet there are times it seems not so long ago, and that we’re not as old as we really are — and those times spent with Janie after school in Idona’s small house listening to Van Halen albums and smoking cigarettes where our parents wouldn’t see us aren’t so distant after all.

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