Carl Wernicke: Death Is A Part Of Life

Sep 17, 2015

I remember years ago wondering why my parents always seemed to be reading the obituaries in the newspaper. Over time I figured it out. As they aged, they found more and more of their friends and acquaintances there, as well as the well-known names of the movers and shakers who had helped form Pensacola during their working lives.

As my generation ages, we are seeing the same thing. I don’t know how it is for others, but for me there has been a growing recognition that the obituary columns are increasingly filled with people who are my age and even younger. That trend arose as sort of a nagging reminder that time, as the old newsreels used to say, marches on.

Now hold on, I’m not trying to be morose. I just think there is value in examining your life realistically, to paying attention to the passing of not just time, but to those things time brings with it, including the inevitable end.

For all of us, losing our parents marks a major milestone, even if it means different things to different people. In thinking about it, I concluded years ago that if nothing else it strips from us the illusion that we are insulated from death. After all, the natural progression of things is that the older people die before the younger ones. So as long as our parents are there, we can at least hold onto the illusion that there is still something substantial between us and our own demise.

Once our parents are gone, we’re left somewhat naked.

We all deal with the inevitability of death in our own way. In secret, I think many of us believe it won’t happen to us. Yes, every one is going to die: just not me, who will turn out to be a medical miracle. It would certainly justify eating all that broccoli and spinach.

But, as I mentioned, time marches on, and does so with the sound of mortal footsteps. In recent weeks I have been to the funerals of the mother of a longtime friend, the husband of a neighbor, the mother of a childhood friend, and then the friend himself, who was my age. I missed the funeral of another friend’s mother.

This steady stream of funerals is unlikely to slow down as I and my circle of friends ages. But I read somewhere once the advice a father gave to his daughter who was dreading going to the growing number of funerals she faced. Remember, he told her, funerals are not for the dead, they are for the living. Always, he said, go to the funeral.

That’s good advice, and I try to follow it.

It reminds us that death is part of life. Life is good, and you should participate in all of it. I myself am looking forward to the coming fall, which has already hinted at itself in some surprisingly cool mornings. I love the first real cold front that comes through, and if I can do it I go to Santa Rosa Island near the mouth of the bay to watch it unfold. Who knows how many more times I will see it.

Yes, time does march on, and our best way of handling it is on our feet, walking alongside.