Of the thousands upon thousands of words in this newspaper, the one which stands out for me today is mortality.
It’s not something any of us like to think about, but as we grow older, it begins to move off the back burner and takes a more prominent place.
Webster defines mortality as “the state of being subject to death,” which is a pretty simple way of telling us that we are all at the mercy of any number of things that could snuff our candle at any time. You know the saying … nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.
These thoughts have been knocking on the door of my head for a while now because of good friends who are experiencing serious cancer concerns, problematic heart situations and the ripple effects of poor decisions concerning alcohol and tobacco. And none of these folks would be considered “old” by any definition in this age of medical advancements.
But here’s the biggest reason that mortality is heavy on my mind …
Today my father would have turned 81 years old. Would have — but he barely saw 67 years, having passed away in 2004 from the effects of a lifetime of smoking. He was warned over and over what was probably waiting for him if he kept lighting up, and he honestly tried to quit numerous times — opting instead for lollipops. But he just couldn’t unhook the nicotine urges from his subconscious.
Over the last few months of his life, all of the warnings finally hit him like a ton of bricks — to the point where he had no intelligent thoughts and could not recognize any of his children. He was literally eaten alive from the inside out by that tobacco demon. We’ve all seen the commercials about what tobacco has done to people, and my father is part of that list.
Dad died July 1, 2004 — one month after his 67th birthday — and as I have every year on his birthday since, I’ll be breaking the company dress code by wearing a Bertram (Texas) Oatmeal Festival shirt that my father gave his older brother about 30 years ago. Back then, my father was about 50, working full-time for IBM in Austin, raising thoroughbred horses part-time on his modest “ranch” in Bertram and playing softball with me once a week. None of us could have foreseen that, in 17 years, he would be gone.
We are all told that time heals all wounds, but that’s not exactly true. Some hurts never, ever heal. The loss of a parent is one of those that never leaves your heart, and your memory works overtime to keep them as close as possible.
For me, the memories of throwing a ball with my dad, going on Boy Scout camping trips, working on my first Chevy Blazer together, building the Taj Mahal of doghouses for my Beagle named Yankee, being in the volunteer fire department, working on the paid and volunteer ambulance together, watching him build his famous “Dagwood” sandwiches and make his “it’s not that spicy” chili, and lording over his cherished Weber grill will always be at the forefront.
But right alongside that will be the fact that I had to write his obituary for Upstate New York, Connecticut and Texas newspapers. I’ve been charged with writing some very sad things over the years, but that will forever be the saddest for me.
So does mortality figure more prominently in my mind than ever before? Certainly. I’m long in the tooth enough to understand none of us are ever going to beat Father Time, and that’s as it should be. So in the meantime, I’ll be praying for those I know well who are facing serious health challenges — as well as wishing my dad a happy 81st birthday today.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.