— Life —

Passing On

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A friend of my parents passed away last week. A customer had left an opened and half-read newspaper on the counter at Starbucks, and while I waited for my latte, I began to casually scroll down the names in the obituary column with detached non-interest. My mind-brake slammed on when I came to the familiar name in the latter half of the alphabet.  Dad and Dr. S were colleagues and friends. They belonged to the same professional and social organizations, and for many years enjoyed a weekly game of squash. I knew his children. My mother and Mrs. S played tennis together and were on the same volunteer committees.  Twenty some years ago, when I had a back injury, Dr. S took care of me. He gave me good care, good advice, a prescription and sent me on my way. I haven’t seen Dr. S since then, and only thought of him and his family on occasion in the years since.

His obituary is on my kitchen counter – a reminder that I should write a note to his family expressing my condolences. But every time I walk through the kitchen and catch a glimpse of the notice, or reach for some note paper, my throat clenches, and I am momentarily stopped with the effort to fight back tears.

Many family friends have passed on since my parents died. I don’t remember feeling this profound sadness when I learned of their passings or attended their funerals. Perhaps it was the timing. The few years before my mother died were very tumultuous years for me. I had a lot going on in my life, and everyday was emotionally, if not actually, chaotic and frantic. The year between her death and Dad’s was the same, with a new category of “stuff to process,” emotionally and actually, and it continued in the same fashion long after I had buried my father.

Now things are quieter. There isn’t as much chaos. I’m not living in a fight or flight state everyday, and I have more time and energy to reflect on things. There are times when something significant – like the death of a friend – occurs, and my first instinct is to reach for the telephone and call my parents to tell them the news. Then in that suspended space between the visceral and the cognitive, I remember they aren’t there to answer the phone.

For some reason the news of the death of Dr. S is making me very sad, almost as if it is unlocking a box of grief I have for my own parents that has yet to be opened. While I fear opening that box and finding what’s inside, after so many years of keeping it closed, it is oddly comforting to know I am capable of finding such a depth of emotion, for them, for Dr. S, and even for myself.



  • Jen Lawrence May 3, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    What a beautiful post, Sara. So much of this resonated with me, even though my parents are still here. It’s strange how memory works and how it is unlocked in the strangest of ways. Your last line made me teary: it is so hard to connect in that way with ourselves at times, isn’t it. So glad you are out of flight or flight and that time and energy are available to you. xo

    • esrcornell May 12, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Thank you. It’s interesting to observe what comes up and why when subtle shifts in life happen…

  • 1010 Park Place May 4, 2016 at 7:22 am

    Grief comes in stages and in the most unexpected ways. Whether it’s the death of our spouse, our parents, even those who’ve slipped off our radar, grief is layered, and has no timeline. I know, all too well, how therapeutic lifting the lid on that box can be… Don’t fear opening it. Instead, fear keeping it closed. xoxox

    • esrcornell May 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Thank you. Hopefully soon I’ll be ready to start prying back the lid…

  • Wally Cattrell May 4, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    What a great piece. I’ve found, too, that as my parents’ friends pass on, I feel more alone. They were the vestiges of a parental support system that’s now eroding. Time to fend for myself…

    • esrcornell May 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I hope you still have a support system of friends and family, even if the one you counted on as a child is eroding…

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