The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 18, 1997 · Page 48
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 48

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 18, 1997
Page 48
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FIRST PERSON F OUR DAYS AFTER my father-in-law died in January at age 77, we held a memorial service at home. I stood before 40 of our friends and relatives, offering words and remembrances to people who hardly knew him. It had been only six months since my in-laws had moved to California to be near "the kids" — a term that alternately applied to our daughters, my wife and me, or all of us. After many years of feeling torn between an active social life in Florida and living near "the kids," they opted to move out West, knowing that time and opportunity were growing shorter. We knew what it meant for us. After many years of living thousands of miles apart, of spending holidays with new friends, of raising babies with the support only of extended family, we suddenly would be graced with real family and real support at a time when they needed us. It would be a time of failing health, of hospital runs. Where were they when we needed them? We had grown used to being on our own, to fending for ourselves. Now we'd have to fend for them. By the time they made the move, we were filled with fear and trepidation. But no sooner did they land in L.A. than life felt strangely complete, maybe for the first time. We were a whole family, an assembly of generations. We had a beginning, a middle, an end. Life had new balance. We took them furniture shopping, they took the kids to museums; we recorded their answering machine message ("Hi. Lois and Chuck are out surfing right now ..."), they took us out for ice cream on a hot summer night. Once we had been splintered, like so many American families, as we shifted cities to pursue shiny new careers and lifestyles. We knew what it was to celebrate birthdays with a long- distance phone call. So we had a special appreciation for having our own family nearby and enjoyed the luxury of being able to pick up the phone on any given day and saying, "Hey, we're grilling some chicken. Why don't you guys join us?" Then, around Thanksgiving, my father-in-law grew more tired than he'd ever been. Almost overnight, he looked pale and cadaverous. My mother- in-law called for help gelling him to the hospital, and I remembered the fears I'd almost forgotten — that this was their ulterior motive for moving here, for us to help them handle the inevitable. No one thought it would come so quickly. He was "We were a whole family. We had a beginning, middle, an end. Life had new balance." m It's never too late to unite a family We had it all: Great jobs, great kids, great location — but a critical piece of the puzzle was missing ... BY MARK MORRISON in the hospital for nearly two months fighting off infections, fevers, fear and foul moods. We prepared for the worst as his energy and attitude ebbed and flowed. But the last time I saw him, he was looking healthy and relaxed. sitting up in bed, dressed in a sweatsuit, seemingly at one with himself and the world. Maybe he knew something we didn't. He died five days later. The death certificate says respiratory failure and cancer. The cause doesn't matter as much as the crime. As I spoke at his memorial service. 1 looked around and realized seven or eight of our friends were wrestling with the raw pain of their own recent losses. This one's mother, that one's father, this one's mother ami father — all in such little time. Certainly we baby boomers are at that age. And no one can be spared, regardless of rank. President Clinton is among the firsi of this generation to turn 50; it is truly emblematic that he lost his beloved mother f two years ago. As if our own age weren't a scary enough reminder of our mortality, watching our parents go is creating new shock waves. W E ARE A generation that made its name preaching revolution. Right or wrong, we redefined thirules: We protested war, we danced to rock 'n' roll. we experimented with drugs and sex, we sent record numbers of women into the workplace, we postponed marriage and procreation, then attacked parenting with volcanic zeal. With Lamaze classes and drug-free deliveries, we embraced New Age- alternatives for birthing. Yet, with all the social impact and cultural change we have been a part of, it's discomforting to discover that there is almost nothing new we can do to better cope with the grim reality of death. There is no breathing exercise we can employ to ease the pain when we lose a parent — or to quell the sudden fear that we are next. Death is the great equalizer. And, despite all the progress and protesting of the second half of the 20th century, the best remedy for our grief is still the most tried and traditional of all: time. Because, the truth is, it's months before the tears stop welling and years before it sinks in that the person you most want to call on the phone to share some funny anecdote or great piece of news is no longer within dialing distance. With this devastating realization comes the knowledge that we must go on without those we miss. And that, for some, time is still on our side, and, if you have not already done so, it's not too late to bridge old gaps. G3 Ma* Morrison, West Coast editor of In Style, chronicles boomer life for USA WEEKEND. He's written on topics from divorce to coloring gray hair. 6 USA WEEKEND • May 16-18,1887

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