“We can close our eyes, pretend the cords don’t exist, but we can’t cut them. They span time and generations, bind us together through the angriest years, the deepest heartaches, through silence and distance, and eventually, they reel us in and carry us home.” –Patti Davis, The Long Goodbye
I saw an interview with Patti Davis once in which she talked about her dad’s Alzheimer’s. By then, the disease had claimed most of Ronald Reagan’s mind. It was the final days of his life and her sad reflection of those last moments still haunt me. I can’t remember her words exactly, but she said as he lay dying something like, “We would never be any closer than we were right then.”
Sadly, the opportunities for relationship and reconciliation had come and gone. The window of intimacy had closed. Her father was still alive, but there was no more time to love each other. It was the last stop in the long goodbye.
All of Life is a Long Goodbye
It seems a shame to leave you now, the days are soft and warm
I long to lay me down again, to hold you in my arms
I long to kiss the tears away, give you back the smile
Other voices beckon me, to go a little while
And it’s goodbye again
–John Denver, Goodbye Again, 1974
I first became aware of the long goodbye as a young child listening to my Baby Boomer sisters spin 1970s records. Oh, how I loved the music of their generation! My favorites included John Denver’s Goodbye Again; Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey and Watching Scott Grow; Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle; Andy Williams’s Love Story and Barbara Streisand’s The Way We Were.
It was all pretty sad stuff, but it helped me process the sad stuff going on around me. Suffice to say from a very young age, I understood that all the time, everyone was leaving. And for my whole life, I have been unable to part with loved ones without wondering if it will be the last time I ever see them. This is how to goes when you live through traumatic events and everyone you love cheats death at least once or twice.
The notion of entire generations passing away first hit me when the last living World War I veterans started making the news. I realized it a much more personal way, however, when the Facebook profiles of the Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1945) started to fall, well, silent. My mother’s profile was among them. I lost her in December 2017. I saw it coming, but of course, I held on tight to her as if I could will to her live forever.
Based on an average life expectancy of 80, the Silent Generation will all pass away by 2025. Most Baby Boomers will be gone by 2040 and most Gen-Xers by 2061. Life expectancy is slowly rising, so those statistics are a bit flawed, but you get my point. Eventually, the last Gen-Xer will take his last breath.
I apologize for sounding so grim, but I can’t help it. It’s as the poet Li Young Le implied in Blossoms, death is always in the background. My mind cannot escape it and I am driven to tell the truth about my life before time runs out.
And, still, I wonder why people write memoirs. And, but, I know. I learned it from Thornton Wilder when I was 15-years-old and my small Southeast Kansas high school put on the play Our Town.
So—people a thousand years from now—this is the way we were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century.—This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.
At least a few times a week I awake in the middle of the night crushed in the darkness, my mother is gone. I drive down the street to take my daughter to a birthday party and my mind races hundreds of streets ahead, 30 years into the future. I wonder to myself, “Will I still remember my mother?” I imagine whispering to myself, “My mother was a sweet woman. Every year at Christmas she baked cookies for the men at the car lot who sold her a car.”
What will I remember about my mother when I am an old woman?
There’s a song I love so much that was written by Kris Kristofferson in 1972. You’ve probably heard it, Why Me Lord? This song takes me back to Kermit Texas, tumbleweeds, fried burritos, and saccharin-filled Diet Dr. Peppers with the blue logo. There’s a line in that song that sums up 10 years of blogging and many more years of writing.
Maybe Lord, I can show someone else
What I’ve been through myself
On my way back to you.