Friday, July 31, 2009

shaken & stirred

The thing about Walter Cronkite’s passing is that it stirred memories of a time long gone and shaken loose others. I should have expected it. Yet, as is often the case, these things have a way of ambushing my emotions.

All the Cronkite memorials naturally keyed in on the Kennedy assassination, the days surrounding November 22, 1963. And the power of seeing those black & white images again, snapped me back in time, riveted.

But that passage of time also left layers of poignancy on the images, once so crisp and familiar. The solemn procession under the watchful gaze of the stately young widow, punctuated by a toddler’s salute, weigh on me differently now, now that they are all gone.

And my thoughts turn to Caroline, as they did on July 16, 1999, when that toddler, then 38 years old, old died along with his wife and sister-in-law in that plane crash. Because she is the lone survivor of the immediate family of her birth. And I know what that’s like.

Yes, it’s odd for me to identify with one so accomplished, so wealthy, with so much extended family and resources. And yet I do. Both of us outlived parents and a younger brother. That’s enough for me.

In my case, my brother was the first to leave, a suicide at age 39, ending a life of emotional pain. Neither of my parents really recovered from that.

No one knows why my 75 year-old father died after a routine operation removing age-old adhesions blocking his bowel. He came out of the operation, regained consciousness, even sat up, before his body started shutting down. An autopsy revealed nothing, nothing medical that is. I’ve always believed he, too, chose to go. My mother was battling lymphoma and I don’t think he wanted to wake up one day without her.

My mother, on the other hand, never forgave him for “leaving her,” and fought on for 15 months before joining her husband and son. Her heart just gave out.

I was never much of a “family” person. And in the 13 years since my mom’s death, have been shocked at the grief and deep aloneness—much greater than simple loneliness—that overcomes me at times such as these. I have lost my moorings.

From Walter Cronkite to Caroline Kennedy to me.

Memory isn’t linear and once awakened, we never can know where it will take us.

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