Skipping Stones In the Pond Of Life & Death

Picture courtesy Picture Day, http://picproj2722.wordpress.com/

Picture courtesy Picture Day, http://picproj2722.wordpress.com/

They say that even when someone dies, they aren’t fully gone; they live on in the memories of those who knew them.  I think that the opposite is also true.  When someone dies, they take some of our memories with them.

In the past few days, two people I know died.  They weren’t especially close friends; they were so much older than I that to claim friendship would be impertinent.  But they were both people I admired and now they are gone.

The first, George, was a respected business and philanthropic leader in our community.  He and his family have been loyal clients and friends of my husband’s family for many, many years.  He treated me with unfailingly courtesy in the more than 25 years I was privileged to know him.  I would be hard pressed to think of someone who better personified the term “gentle man”.

The second, Marthe, was from my hometown – the mother of an old friend of mine from grade school.  She was French/Canadian and, with her marvelous accent, always seemed much more exotic than all the other moms.  Her son and I were in high school French class together.  Ever afterwards, whenever she saw me (usually in church) she greeted me with “Bonjour, Margaret!”, the lead-in to an incomprehensible question in French that I would gamely try to interpret.

But my memories are hazy and I forget details.

– Did she call me Margaret or was it Marguerite?

– What was the name of that fancy restaurant my boyfriend Lyle took me to in college, when we were celebrating our anniversary?

– Did my brother Pat and I implement, even once, our plan to go running every morning that summer before he went off to college?  Or was it on the very first day we agreed, sheepishly and groggily, “to hell with it”, and just went back to bed?

I can’t remember these things and I will never be able to pin them down because those who shared the experiences with me are gone.  All gone.

The landscape of our own lives is changed forever when people we know die.

When a family member or someone else we love is gone, the changes are immediate and obvious.  They stick out like a new highway suddenly plunked down in the middle of town.  But all losses, big and small, have their impact on us.  It’s just a matter of degrees.

A cousin…the house next door is torn down.  The woman who sang alto in the choir… a new grocery store goes up. The guy who sat 2 rows away on the commuter train, every morning for the last 15 years…Elm St. is closed.  The accountant who called with a cheery, cheesy, “time to meet with your friendly tax man!” every April 1st …a new school goes up.  Ernest Borgnine… the State Theater closes.   And so it goes, on and on.

This is, I think, the reason that so many elderly people find it hard to keep touch with the modern world.  It’s not the gigantic leaps in technology, changes in music or fashion or political regimes that come and go.

It’s the loss of people.

The landscapes of our lives are made up of human markers – some major, some minor.   Without these human landmarks, life is hard to navigate and the familiar starts to look foreign.

As I get older, the previous generation is passing from the landscape at a dizzying, rapidly accelerating pace.  Soon the topography won’t be recognizable as we, ourselves, become that older generation.

Each of our lives is a pebble in the pond, making waves that overlap all the other pebbles around us.  Just how big that impact is we may never be able to gauge here and now.  Maybe only in the next life will we gain the perspective to fully do so.

p.s.  Lest you think I’m all somber reflection today, know that George welcomed his first, little great-grandchild into the world a mere week before his passing.   Not all the changes to our landscapes are losses.

Rest in peace, George and Marthe.

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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78 Responses to Skipping Stones In the Pond Of Life & Death

  1. Al says:

    Wow, Peg. What a moving and articulate introspection. Your literary talent is not confined to satire and humor, that’s for sure.

    Of all the passages in our lifetime, mid-life is probably the most reflective and least reactive. I know mine was. Now that I have moved into the “golden” years, I find it easier to enjoy the blessings of each day and minimize the disappointments. Having said that, I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t recollect those people and things since departed that affected my life in some positive way. It’s bittersweet, but the comfort that comes from it outweighs the sadness.

    Thanks for a beautiful post.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Al. I’m especially thankful to hear that it’s not just me doing all the mid-life introspection. I do tend to focus on the loss part of the whole process, so I appreciate the reminder to find comfort in good memories of those who have gone before us.

      Like

  2. Go Jules Go says:

    This is beautifully written, Peg. I don’t know that I ever thought of it quite like this, but it rings so true. The departed do take some of our memories with them. “Stick out like a new highway” and “human landmarks” – brilliant.

    I loved this; thank you for sharing it. Rest in peace, George and Marthe.

    Like

  3. lexy3587 says:

    Beautiful expression of your losses – very sweet.

    Like

  4. winsomebella says:

    It is amazing how those ripples can still reach us, years later………lovely thoughts Peg 🙂

    Like

  5. bigsheepcommunications says:

    Poignant and sweet.

    Like

  6. Lenore Diane says:

    I was fine until you mentioned Ernest Borgnine. Why did you have to bring up Ernest, Peg? Why?
    To me, this is a peaceful post. You know I lost my brother-in-law in November, and our landscape has certainly changed as a result. Just yesterday, I was talking to Rob about what Walter would tell me to do with my flu-like symptoms. I popped a Vitamin D pill in his honor, and Rob and I had a nice laugh. (Walter was a HUGE believe in the miracle of Vitamin D.)
    Still, I know months from now, I’ll have questions similar to the questions you raised about your brother. While I can hold on to Walter with memories, I am afraid I’ve lost some of the memories, too.
    What a wonderful blessing George was able to know about his great-granddaughter before dying.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      The Ernest Borgnine addition seems rather random, but I have to admit, when they run those tributes at the end of the year of all the famous people who died, they seem like very personal little shocks. Weird, huh?

      I imagine you and your husband and family are barely beginning to feel your way in your strange new landscape without Walter. I’ve often thought that the loss of a sibling strikes at the very roots of our childhood.

      Like

  7. It’s rare that anyone talks about death in real, reflective ways. You did us all a service by expressing your thoughts in this most masterfully done way.

    Maybe details fade or even disappear–even ones we consider important–when someone dies. But do feelings about our relationships to those people fade or disappear? Maybe they change over time, but my dad had been dead for 50 years and I still have feelings about him–no details–but feelings. In the grand scheme of things, I would rather have feelings than facts to draw upon when remembering a loved one who passed away from my life. But that’s me,

    But it’s the rational discussion of this tough subject that is so very important. And I thank you for that.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thank you for such a thoughtful response. 50 years without your dad – what a tough, tough loss. How wonderful to know the feelings remain strong and vivid after all those years, Lorna.

      Like

      • It took a long time for the riled up storm of feelings to settle, but now that they have, I treasure all of those feelings and the journey I had to go through to get to this place of peace a daughter has of her father who killed himself.

        Like

  8. When good people go, the loss seems to ripple farther. I’m sorry for the loss of their spirit and the memories. You’ve done them a wonderful service with you beautiful words.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      You’re so right – some people have the knack of living lives that generate the kind of ripples that really matter. Then there are the people who are pond scum…

      Like

  9. Jackie says:

    This is lovely, Peg. I’m a fan of your humorous ramblings, but every time you get serious on me, I am reminded of how wonderful your writing is when you are sincere as well. This is a great tribute. May your friends rest in peace.

    Like

  10. This fall, as we neared the birth of my daughter, my dad got news that he was terminally ill in two different ways. I’ve been calling it my “cycle-of-life mind-f***.”

    Very well written post. Eloquently put.

    Like

  11. Peg, I loved this post. It spoke to many of the things which bounce around in my head. You’ve become a kindred spirit for me in this blog-world, as we each negotiate the strange landscape of middle age, miles apart. Your thoughts truly resonate with me Thanks for great post.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Dave, you made my day. I sometimes feel like I’m trying to run through quicksand, negotiating this mid-life business. It’s damn tough, isn’t it?

      Like

      • It’s dicey, for sure. I don’t feel like I really have a road map, or much in the way of role models, since everyone seems to set all their best examples earlier in life.

        You’ll be happy to know that you awoke an old memory in me, which is certainly worth blogging about. It’s a fairly sacred topic for me, so I may not post it anytime soon.

        Glad to make your day!

        Like

  12. I feel honored you chose my image to include in this post. Well written and thoughtful. I do like your take on death and memories. Thank you for letting me know about this post so I could experience it.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thank you so much for letting me use your lovely picture. I have a mental image of you tossing that stone with one hand while bobbling your expensive camera (with the 2-foot lens) with the other habd, all to get THE shot.

      Like

      • You’re welcome.

        Not far from the truth. I had it mounted on a tripod low to the shore, used the 2 second delay, clicked the shutter and then threw the stone! This was actually the first attempt. I tried 6 – 8 more times and none of them came close to this one.

        Like

  13. This is almost as random as Ernest Borgnine, but I think you’ll get it: Patti Page passed away on New Year’s Day. Now, I’m “too young” to remember her (of course, I know who she was – I just wasn’t around for the first-run of “Tennessee Waltz”)… but it bothers me when people my age or younger (or even a bit older) dismiss her death as though no one knew who she was. She was part of an important and history-shaping generation, and she deserves to be honored as such. So, too, do your friends, George and Marthe. They mattered to people, younger and older than themselves. They mattered to you, enough that you wrote a post mentioning them, if not “about” them in the strictest sense. Your rumination is valuable, Peg-O. Thanks for this post.

    Like

  14. I hadn’t really though about some of my memories disappearing when someone dies. Now I can think back to times I thought about what I wished I had asked my parents, my grandparents. But of course, when they were alive, those questions never came up.

    Beautiful post!

    Like

  15. alexisdeluca says:

    “The landscape of our own lives is changed forever when people we know die.” Such a beautiful way to look at life and the passing of it through our fingers….thank you for sharing.

    Like

  16. It’s true. It’s how I think about my grandmother. I remember a lot, but there is so much I don’t know and wish I could know but I never knew to ask. And now there is no one who can tell me. *weep* I’m so sorry for your losses.

    Like

  17. Janu says:

    Beautiful post.

    Like

  18. John says:

    You have touched upon something quite profound. Excellent piece.

    Like

  19. k8edid says:

    My mother died at age 42, but for years I had people who could tell me about her, about her childhood and early adulthood. Now they are all gone, taking their memories with them. As each of her relatives passed away I felt her presence and memories slipping away.

    This was lovely, Peg. Reflective and insightful.

    Like

  20. Elyse says:

    This is so beautifully put, Peg. And my sympathies on your losses.

    My Aunt Marion, the eldest of her generation, lived long after everyone else. She would sometimes look at me and say “there’s nobody left who remembers.”

    I know how she feels. I don’t know what is a memory from my late sisters or my parents, and what i something I made up at some point. Even my stories that I remember so clearly, will invite questions from my brothers — “I don’t remember that” they say.

    But that is how it has always been, I guess.

    Once again, beautiful, Peg. I hope that this one gets FP’d because lots of people should read it.

    Like

  21. pattisj says:

    When we start feeling the losses, we seem to realize our days are numbered, too. Our perspective changes, right along with the landscape. Hopefully we’ll still be blogging when we’re little old ladies, Peg.

    Like

  22. Joe Cardillo says:

    I think about the memory part of death a lot. When someone dies millions of moments leave with them, most un-witnessed by other people. That’s why it matters that we recognize the stories of someone’s life, because it helps to give meaning whether it’s one death or many that we are dealing with.

    Like

  23. Yes it’s so true, everything affects so many other things, and a death is such a permanent change, I’d never thought of it in quite the way you have reflected upon here though, that they take some of our memories with them.

    Very beautifully written (your post that is, not my comment!).

    Like

  24. Each of our lives is a pebble in the pond, making waves that overlap all the other pebbles around us. Just how big that impact is we may never be able to gauge here and now. Maybe only in the next life will we gain the perspective to fully do so.

    I certainly do believe in this, Peg. I am terribly sorry about the deaths of your friends. In a way, experiencing these losses makes us wake up and realize how important it really is to spend the present moment with our loved ones and to ask them details about their lives, their pasts, their memories, so that we can remember these things later on.

    My mom is basically all I have left of my family (other than my brothers). All my grandparents have passed, my dad has passed, most of my aunts/uncles. And I know at her age and with her health, she’s not long for this world, either. So I rely on her to tell me about my relatives. We often go through her old photo albums and I make sure she writes down who was who and other details about their lives so I can pass it down to my kids. To me, it is important to remember these little things so we can stay closer to those who have died and honor their memory and existence. I do fully believe we will be reunited with our family and friends again after death and that is a huge source of comfort for me.

    Thanks for writing this, Peg, in such a beautiful, haunting way. I read this last night and thought about it for hours. Much love to you.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s so crucial; to spend the time with the older generation and have them write down who is who in the old photos or that knowledge is lost with them.

      I also believe that we will be reunited with our loved ones (and God) after death, and that makes loss tolerable. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Darla.

      Like

  25. Sandy Sue says:

    A beautiful, thoughtful post.

    Like

  26. Tori Nelson says:

    Crying like a young, guilty idiot because I’ve stayed mostly sheltered from loss. It is a scary thing I know is around me.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Nothing wrong with being sheltered from loss – I recommend it highly, Tori. The problem is, the nature of human interaction practically forces us to experience it at some point. I hope your major losses are many, many years away.

      Like

  27. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Beautiful post, Peg. As I prepare to visit my very elderly parents soon, I’m brought much closer to thoughts of passing on. I want to keep close the memories of my parents always. I owe that to the two people who sacrificed so much for me.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      How great that you keep them and their memories close.

      I just got back from visiting my elderly parents for Christmas. My Dad was in the hospital for most of the time, got home and got sick, then my mom got sick. The past few weeks have been a downward spiral and this morning, both of them are in the hospital.

      I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful visit.

      Like

      • Snoring Dog Studio says:

        Oh, Peg, I’m so sorry to hear that about your parents. I’m leaving to go see my parents this coming week, primarily to say goodbye to my father. I don’t think he has much more than a few weeks left.

        Like

  28. Beautiful post. I’m sorry for your losses and it’s fitting that you acknowledge them passing on what you know to be true–their spirit lives on. You bring perspective and you bring balance.
    It was an amazing thing for me to learn who my dad was after he died. Although I was 39 when he passed, (I was fortunate in that he had nurtured me as a child, sent me off to college and gave me away at our wedding, came to know our two daughters as toddlers) I had viewed my mother and father as a team for a very long time, not necessarily individuals. After he was gone I was able to sort out who my mother was and who my dad was–what each brought to our family and their relationship. I learned in my 40’s who my dad was at another level–I began to make out the larger and largest ripples if you will. Excellent reflection and thank you for the image/metaphor of the ripples.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s an interesting perspective, to learn who your parents were as individuals, not just as a team, and from different ages.

      My parents are both still alive at 82 (next week) and 85 and I know I have no right to complain because their health is failing. But I do – I want them to live forever!

      Like

  29. Shannon says:

    You are very right, Peg. Wonderful post.

    My cherished memories are inextricably linked to the people at the time who shared them with me. I always dread when I learn someone dies, even if it was an old English teacher from elementary school. But death is a part of life. I strive to revisit my favorite memories with people, particularly those a generation or more ahead of me — as I think of them. I write them a letter, drop in for a visit, or call them on the phone.

    Once last summer, my kids and I spent a whole weekend with one of the neighborhood moms who played a huge part of my coming up (my childhood best friend’s mom). We recollected so many memories, there were tears from both ends of the spectrum. She enjoyed getting to know my children who are near replicas of the me she knew 30 years ago, and I enjoyed filling in the missing pieces. Does the heart good.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      What a wonderful legacy to pass on connections and memories through the generations! Good for you for taking real action to connect and preserve those relationships.

      Like

  30. This was wonderfully done Peg. What a marvelous legacy we all have from those who touch our lives in even random ways, even when their deaths mean some of our memories go with them.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Valentine, you have just the right attitude about this. I’m trying to embrace that appreciation instead (typically) concentrating on the loss.

      Like

      • I suspect because I lost dear friends when I was young I learned a different meaning to loss and then to celebrations of life. When I lost my most beloved of mothers (I have three) I created a montage of her life through pictures, since she only became my mother much later in life but was my aunt before than my memories of her were different and intersected. My memories were bolstered by the memories of her biological children (my siblings / cousins), her church communities, her journals and her many awards received through her acts of kindness and community activism. Through all this I put together a collage of who she was. Though I loved her before her passing, respected her for her great heart after this I also saw her more clearly.

        Her legacy to all of us was wonderfully written on our hearts. When my father passed 10 months later, I did the same. I have never stopped missing my loved ones or my friends Peg, but still I celebrate how they touched me, how they changed me.

        Like

  31. mistyslaws says:

    How did I miss this? I blame the flu!

    This is really very intuitive, Peg. The fact that our landscape isn’t actually the surrounding landscape we see, but the people who surround our lives. I really love this post. Great job, Peg!!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Me and you both with that damn flu – I’m STILL recovering.

      Thanks, Misty. What got me thinking was all the people who aren’t the main players in our lives, but really something of a supporting cast. Without them, life looks so strange.

      Like

  32. This is beautiful. I meant to read it last week, but I’m glad I’m reading it right now. It’s a sweet, if bittersweet, way to start winding down my evening. So far, my losses have been few, and the landscape is blessedly similar now to what it was ten years ago. I know that won’t always be so, so I am grateful for what I have now . . . including your words to mull or chuckle over, as the case may be. Thank you.

    Like

  33. It’s times like this I wish I was more eloquent… but this really is beautifully written, Peg…
    wow…

    Like

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