The Boston Marathon bombings. I sat watching the coverage of streets I know, stunned that another place familiar to me was the victim of mind-numbing violence. Prior to 9/11, I had worked on the 96th floor of World Trade Center Tower One.
The recent events in Boston have me thinking about death. And life. I grew up near Boston. It was my ‘big city.’ The first day I had a driver’s license, I snuck down Route 93 in my parent’s Pontiac Le Mans which I drove smack into Copley Square, an area just beyond the finish line of Monday’s marathon. I never told them, they thought I’d driven to the mall. It’s a bit late to confess. I lost both parents in 2009, three months apart. They were fairly young, only 77 and had been in pretty good health. Except that last year, which was tough on them and our family. But at least we had the chance to prepare, we knew it was coming. Unlike in Boston.
Every day, as I step out of my bathroom I notice a picture of my Dad and me. I’m proudly holding up a cake I’d baked for him. It reads “Happy 56th Birthday and 3rd Anniversary.” After 20 some years in AA, he’d had a small lapse. But he’d climbed back on the wagon and was now celebrating three years sober.
Each day when I see this picture my first thought is how crappy I look in the shot. Yesterday, I suddenly realized, in this picture my Dad is a year younger than I am now. And, he’s gone.
I cannot begin to imagine how the bombings in Boston have affected its victims, families and friends. I only know that, even though we knew death was imminent, dealing with the passing of my parents was still paralyzing. After they died, the oddest realizations cropped up. Can you become an orphan at age 53? Where is Mom’s pot roast recipe? I forgot to ask Dad how to rewire a lamp.
My parents didn’t leave an inheritance, as such. They’d taken out a reverse mortgage (which we all encouraged.) After settling that and the medical bills, there wasn’t much left to go around. But the contents of their home, which were very much the essence of my parents, were ours to share. Mom and Dad had lived to decorate — it was their hobby and their passion.
For the past four years, I’ve been surrounded by the physical remnants of their lives. Boxes and huge Rubbermaid containers have been stacked in my living room. The roll of an oriental rug lounges in a corner of the room. My grandmother’s china is still safe in the packing boxes.
Until yesterday, these items remained untouched. Finally last night, I opened the first box. Inside I found my Mom’s coffee cup. The two beautiful cereal bowls they used every morning. A pair of cake pans that baked every birthday cake of my childhood. I smiled at finding two commemorative plates I’d gifted them one Christmas. They were from The Greenbriar, the hotel where they spent their honeymoon.
I thought leaving all these boxes sit there for years was just lazy or disorganized. Now, I realize that — perhaps unconsciously — they provided a sort of wall keeping real life at bay. A wall that I needed until I was ready to accept that they’re really gone. And me, whether technically an orphan or not, I’m still here.
After Boston, it’s been underscored for me not to waste a moment. We cannot control things. Life will do what life will do. Our task, just live it.