Time is an illusion, created by humans to measure the space between sunrise and sunset; so the hunter knew when to return home, when the farmer would know when it was time to stop plowing. As much as I love science fiction, time travel is just a fantasy. A wish fulfillment device to consider “what if?” questions and roads untraveled. A second is a second, an hour sixty of those seconds. It never changes, but sometimes an hour feels like a minute and a minute an hour. Everything is a matter of perception. As we get older, it feels as if time moves more quickly, even though the distance between each moment remains constant. Time, in fact, is the only constant in the universe, the one thing, once spent, we never get back. Time is precious. We squander so much of it even though we swear there is never enough.
My parents are both long gone, having passed about six years apart from each other. They died differently; mom lost her battle with cancer. She knew it was coming and once it spread too far for any treatment to guarantee quality of life, she let go. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever witnessed. In the days following, nothing was left unsaid. She passed peacefully in her own bed. When she left, I felt the pain of departure, but after the initial loss, I was happy and relieved for her. No more pain, no more fear. I moved on very quickly and every so often I have to remind myself just how long it has been since she died.
My father, on the other hand, was taken without warning by a sudden heart attack. I got the call from the NYPD. Dad was three days shy of 67 years old. We buried him on his birthday, a day he and I were planning to spend together. He was more than my father, he was my best friend. He was young, vital, in great shape, loved dancing, drinking, women, movies and music. We had so many more things to do together, but time, that precious thing we waste but don’t have enough of, ran out. I didn’t take it well. I was shattered. It took me a full year to pull out of the resulting depression. It was the longest year of my life. And I know exactly how long it’s been since I received that call (nineteen years and four months). I think of it on the anniversary of his death. Every. Single. Year. However, I can’t tell you the exact day my mother died. Not because I loved her any less, but because of how she left, and the closure we had. Her passing didn’t scar me.
The ancient cliché of time healing all wounds is a fallacy. Time only creates distance from events, healing comes from within, and only if conditions from without make it possible. We learn how to live with it, we create a new normal, we find a reason to get up every morning and move forward. Everyone has a reason, whether it is a child, grandchild, domestic partner, or pets (or all of the above). Perhaps it’s a mission, created to honor the person lost. Or a promise to live up to the example that loved one set. Yet, the wound is still there. We carry the pain, no matter great or small. For some, it can be a sharp pain that envelops our being to the point we can’t function until it passes. Where stepping outside in the world of people and daylight is an anathema to us. For others it’s a dull ache, rather like an old broken bone that twinges in rain. To this day, I miss my father, but the dull ache becomes a sharp pain at certain times of the year, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and, of course, his birthday. Or any time I’m about to perform on stage. Or when I listen to Gene Krupa records.
I didn’t lose my dad to a senseless act of violence. He wasn’t stolen from me by the unfeeling actions of a human monster. However, I was told something by someone I respect greatly.
Loss is loss.
Something large and important is taken from us. A piece of ourselves is gone. A chunk of our heart is chipped away, smashed into splinters, and trampled on until what remains is dust. Words are cold comfort. Everyone tries to say the right things, but it usually boils down to a phrase repeated ad nauseam: “sorry for your loss.” I heard it so many times, I swore I would never use those four words in that order again.
In the face of monumental loss, the best we can do is take each day as it comes, and do all we can in the time we have. With each person we lose, we are reminded of our own mortality and the fleetingness of time. We should all reevaluate the time we have and how it is spent. If I’ve learned anything it’s that those we love need know that we do, in fact, treasure them. Not just in words, but in action. Never let things go unsaid, never wonder “did she know how I really felt?”
Time is limited, so spend it wisely. We can always make more money, replenish our food, collect more stuff. However, once each second is gone, it never returns. Years spent unsatisfactorily aren’t refunded. So, try to dedicate the days you have to those you’ve lost. Live up to the example they set. You loved them because they touched your life, they helped to make you a whole person. They did something you admired. Take those best qualities and make them your own. Trust me, that is the best kind of theft and they would be proud of you for doing it. You see, when you do that, you give them something in death they never had in life…