The Grim Reaper

Ferrett publishes in Asimov’s. Asimov’s? That’s kind of impressive. I think congratulations are in order.


And now, some sobriety.

It’s been a strange morning here at Kirkwood. A student from Africa stopped in to drop her classes because her mother is dying in the Congo, and she must go away for a month. Her mother is 68.

Another student just called to tell me she wouldn’t be in class tomorrow night because her mother has succumbed to a virulent cancer, and the family is now on death watch.

This comes on the day that Bryon and I are running to Southern Iowa for a funeral visitation for his aunt Hilda, the fourth aunt or uncle Bryon has lost in the past year and a half.

Makes that other post I was going to write otherwise this morning seem frivolous, so I think I”ll talk about this.

I know some long time live journal friends are aware that I lost my father in the summer of 1993, after six weeks of life support following his stroke. Even though my father was an unpleasant abuser, it was a hard summer. Losing even a bad parent can be wrenching. I have some experience with drawn-out death, and I can support the cliche that sometimes “it’s for the best,” and it’s okay for people to go. There’s a way to prepare that a sudden loss doesn’t give you. As horrible as I think the ordeal for my two students will be, both of them will have some time to prepare for loss. If their experience is in anyway similar to mine, the death may well be a relief.

The situation with Bryon’s aunt is much the same. Hilda has been in the nursing home deteriorating for a couple of months. A life-long stubborn smoker, her condition was exacerbated right up until the end with tobacco. Her children have had some time to prepare.

It’s Bryon’s parents that I am concerned about. Phyllis is 84. Neal is 87. Neal is on a steroid-based inhaler, so he tends to be slightly depressed a great deal of the time these days. In their generation, families were social circles. They’ve lost 4 people who were close to them in a very short time. Neal, especially, is taking all of this very hard.

When you read psychology texts, authors talk dryly about this time of life. How, when the elderly lose those that are close to them, they begin to become increasingly isolated and depressed. How it is important to maintain multi-generational contacts. How it is vital to come to accept death, and to try to stay active in life.

How much more difficult to see those you love going through this. No wonder that Phyllis and Neal have fallen back to the position of religion for comfort, reminded of their own mortality as well as those around them.

Of course, you think about your own future as well. Bryon and I, childless, at the end of our lives, watching our friends pass away.

Our culture seems afraid of death. I can’t help but think that there is some satisfaction at the end in a life well-lived. I’ve regretted not having more time to write, but I will never regret the service I’ve rendered to others because of education. No one wants to die, but everyone does. Those around you do too. Is it a blessing to be the first?

We learn to deal with loss. We learn to cope with loss. We have to accept death. I wonder how, at the end, I could leave my friends with the idea that I am okay with going, and that they should carry on. I know that I would miss my nearest and dearest terribly. How can I hold them to me like bright stars in my memory? How can I appreciate the life and accept the death?

A friend reminds me of Satoshi Kon’s good-bye this month. He died at the early age of 46 from pancreatic cancer. There is wonder and worth in this good-bye. It makes it both harder and easier to accept the loss of such a man.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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