Thursday, October 06, 2011

This is not about Steve Jobs

Death at a young age

[D]eath is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.

The quote is from the commencement address that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. Naturally lots of people have been considering those words since the report that Jobs died on Wednesday. Naturally people have been thinking it's unfortunate that Jobs was “cleared away” after having lived only 56 years.

I can remember when the fifties seemed like old age to me. That was a few years ago, of course. I no longer think that. Especially since I am no longer in my fifties. In fact, I used to doubt that I would ever make it that far.

Young people. How foolish they can be.

By a curious coincidence, I have a cousin who is 56. The same age as Jobs. My cousin is in hospice care. Perhaps you know what that means. It provides some relief to his wife, of course, because she has been bearing the burden of caring for a terminally ill man who can no longer get about under his own power. However, it is also a harbinger of imminent death, because hospice workers don't show up till the final days, which is where my cousin is now.

By a peculiar circumstance, my cousin is acquainted with the hospice workers. He knows them from the meticulous and considerate care they gave to his sister last month, in the days before she died at the age of 53. She was the first of our generation to go. Her brother will soon be the second. He attended her funeral in a wheelchair, knowing that the ceremony could be considered a dress rehearsal for his own imminent last rites.

How do people deal with tragedies like this? I don't know. I suppose that having no choice is a big part of it. You can't pick any alternatives. You have to endure the unendurable because it cannot be avoided. My uncle and aunt are still alive, having buried one child and expecting soon to bury another. I can't imagine how they feel.

I am insulated from the grief. These are cousins who live at a distance. Not cousins I used to see on a daily basis when we all lived on a big farm. They're the city cousins I used to see a couple of times a year when we traveled down to southern California to visit my maternal grandparents. Many years have passed since I last saw any of them in person. We've been out of touch and the bad news has been percolating north through the family grapevine—my mother, mainly. My dying cousin is her godson.

No, this post is not about Steve Jobs. It's about people dying young. People younger than me. I wanted to say something about it. Not that it does any good.


Kathie said...

Zee, I'm so sorry to learn of these illnesses and sorrow in your extended family. Your family's moral support of your cousins, aunt and uncle will surely help them get through this awful period, although of course not change the ultimate outcome.

We're currently dealing emotionally with the terminal illness of a slightly-younger (than us, although older than your cousins) long-time close friend, whose treatments for ovarian cancer were unsuccessful at best, and harmful at worst. My husband and I keep on working, albeit distractedly and not wholeheartedly, while trying to lend moral support to her husband, but there's this pall of helplessness and hopelessness cast over the situation that can't be overcome. Her death will surely mark the end of an era.

Karen said...

Zeno, you deal with it because you have to. Sometimes the dealing with it goes on and on. And on. I'm still dealing with my father's death, in particular, and he died in 2006.

Gene O'Pedia said...

Sorry for the news Zeno. How we're supposed to deal with these heart-breaking situations reminded me of a wonderful quote from The Grapes of Wrath. A cocky young gas station attendant, speaking to Tom Joad, says that the Joads must have a lot of nerve to head across the Mojave Desert in the dark of night in a "wreck" like they're driving. To which Tom grins and says "It don't take no nerve to do somepin when there ain't nothin' else you can do."

Which I know doesn't exactly shine a bright light on the situation, but it's comforting to realize that there isn't any one magical way to deal with these things. I actually agree with the Hallmark notion, that there are times when sending a card, a letter, a gift box of fruit, etc., can cover a whole lot of ground, because there's not a lot else to do.