The Essential Fragility

Dates resonate with me. I am just one of those people who remembers them year after year, the birthdays, the major lifecycle events, the momentous occasions, for whatever reason they become a part of the permanent calendar of my life. Now that’s a good thing for not forgetting a birthday or anniversary and not such a good thing when it comes to moments of sorrow or heartbreak.

Dates are on my mind today because some of the difficult ones are so difficult that they begin to make themselves known even weeks ahead.  For me one of the toughest dates on the calendar each year is December 1.  It’s the day that my beloved, and only, sibling died in a senseless accident at home.  It’s the day that I redefined myself from being one of two surviving members of my birth family to being the only one.

I dread that day every year and I anticipate it weeks in advance.  For the first few months after Norm died, every Saturday would mark another week since the news of that terrible phone call and I would see the events of that day unfold in my mind.  The first of each month became the countdown of how many months had passed since his life had ended, how many weeks since I had heard his voice, heard him say, as he did at the end of every call, “Give kisses all around.”  I don’t do that anymore, I don’t wear my grief like a second skin anymore but the wound has never healed.  I don’t believe it ever will.

I frequently say that life changes in the space between one heartbeat and the next.  Working with older adults, working in a healthcare setting, those words are borne out often.  But it’s not just older adults whose lives change that quickly.  It’s our families, our friends, our colleagues and healthy 46 year olds like my brother with two young kids and his life ahead of him.

There isn’t always tomorrow or next week or next year.  We all know that, we all realize it when our lives change abruptly and without warning.  And yet we forget, we take each other for granted, we talk about “next time” or “sometime” without reminding ourselves that those “times” are not guaranteed.

At the holiday season, perhaps we should all give ourselves a single gift, the gift of seizing each opportunity, of finding ways to reach out and connect, of telling the people we care about how much they matter to us, of saying the “thank you” that has been too long delayed.  Let’s have those conversations, let’s say those words.  Let’s not long for that “one last conversation.”  That’s my goal for this year’s December 1, to honor Norm’s memory by remembering that life is fragile and that each moment is unique and non-repeatable.  Will you join me?

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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