I recently finished reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It covers a one-year period which began with her daughter being admitted to a hospital seriously ill and comatose and the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, of a heart attack as they sat down to dinner just a few evenings later. They had been married over 40 years. It is a painful but rather exquisite journey with Ms. Didion reflecting on her loss, mourning and grief.
I am 60 years old. I lost my father in 1978 to colon and liver cancer. He was 74. My eldest brother died in 1989 of a heart attack at age 60. My mother was 92 at her death, finally succumbing to, I guess, just being old. I have seen both my father and mother in-law pass, several of my wife's uncles, as well as her youngest brother and sister. My wife is the oldest of eight.
Death is, perhaps, the most difficult of life's changes with which we must deal. It is absolute. No recourse. Regardless, Ms. Didion recounts how she continued certain routines and resisted changing things regarding her husband on the notion that, somehow, he might yet come back; that there may have been some kind of mistake. He still might need his slippers, or he wouldn't like finding his desk in disarray. He had projects to finish.
Although my father has been gone the longest, I miss him the most. I can't say we were close. He was a difficult man, an alcoholic by any standard. He was bitter and had a foul temper, especially when drunk. But, underneath that, he was a man of intelligence and good humor. While he never rose much above working class wages, he provided well for my mother. She never wanted for anything materially.
I often wonder what it would have been like if, instead, he had outlived my mother. I'm sure it would have been difficult. He had pretty well estranged both of my brothers, who had little use for him. Oddly, my wife loved him. She saw the good natured rascality in him that was too often obscured by his drinking. She saw him as a victim of a cloying, judgmental wife. He was profoundly lonely and alone. My wife knew he was no saint, but she also understood that we, as a family, had badly misjudged him. Sadly, I didn't really see it until after he was gone. Now, I wish I could bring him back. He never knew my kids. (The day of visitation for my dad's funeral was also the day my wife discovered that she was pregnant with our older son.) I believe he would have liked them. They are both intelligent, good humored, and strong-willed. That last-- much more so than any of my dad's children, including yours truly.