When I started this post back in August, my father-in-law's death had been only 24 days earlier. The pain is duller now, especially since he is not my own father and though I knew him for over 26 years and we were pretty close, I didn't see him very often. I still think what I wrote then and will write now is very true.
The death of a close family member changes everything. After it happens so suddenly and unexpectedly (and I'm sure even if you're expecting it) one looks at life very differently, it's hard to explain. I have lost all four of my grandparents* and two uncles (husbands of my mom's sisters), but we were much closer to my father-in-law than we were with any of our grandparents and uncles (my husband had also lost both of his paternal grandparents). And the feeling of loss and the grief from losing a parent are much stronger than for a grandparent or uncle.
* paternal grandpa when I was 8, maternal grandpa when I was 16, maternal grandma at 25, and paternal grandma when I was 37.
One of the things that happens is that nothing is taken for granted anymore, we begin to say, "Yes, we'll go together on that trip next year, if all goes well" or "If all goes as planned and we're all still here." (end of 8/28's post) We begin to incorporate the thought that someone may no longer be with us in the future to every plan because now the awareness of the possibility of death is more real and closer. That's why looking forward to what will or may come is forever changed with such a life shattering event. We begin to think of the new year and wonder whether anyone in the family will die then.
Another thing that happened to me is that I no longer assume that K and I will get to grow old together and that thought is so sad! I look at my husband fully aware of the fragility of life now, he "feels" more fragile to me because his dad died so suddenly, I sometimes ask out loud "You're not going to die young like your dad, will you?" (He was 71) And of course that's a question with no answer. I assumed that we would live for a long time because of the longevity of his paternal grandparents (90+) and now his maternal grandmother (who just turned 90) as well as that of my maternal grandmothers (94 and 96). I was really looking forward to that, growing really old together, but now I cannot simply assume that.
Back in August I actually felt angry when I saw older men and thought that my father-in-law would never get to live to that age. And now I'm thankful every day that my father will be 80 years old in a year and that he's still healthy, that my mom is 76 and she's doing well, that my 87 year old aunt who has been hospitalized for nearly two weeks is getting better (I am so so thankful for that!). Not to mention my mom's other siblings who are still doing good at 90+, 88, and 84.
The truth is that life is fragile and can end at any moment, but we choose to be generally oblivious to that -- it would be too difficult to live otherwise. So when death comes so suddenly and reminds us this, life changes drastically and we need to learn to live with this new awareness. I think we're learning. I suppose it's good to be more prepared when the next time comes. Can one ever be prepared to face death, though? Hopefully yes.