My father died 41 years ago today. My mother passed 20 years ago this last June and my younger brother will have been gone for eight years ten days from now. My mother made it to age 80; my father and brother left much too soon.
That’s the entire immediate family into which I was born. And I live with a sense of loneliness which is separate and distinct from all the rest of my life because the fundamental ties to my past no longer exist. I have and treasure my children and grandchildren, step-families and nieces and cousins, but they are all part of the present and the future. This is about the past.
There are so many times and places, so much laughter and tears, joy and pain, so much that happened which nobody who was part of is still alive but me. Simple moments, shared experiences, the kind of silent bonding that takes place between those who are part of the same blood and history, all have been reduced to what I can remember and will be gone as if they never existed when my time here is over. I am a one-man bastion against the darkness, the last one who knows.
It is said that we are never truly gone so long as one person remembers that we once lived. In a sense, that is just a comforting thought which allows the living to feel better about those who have passed on. Almost as desperately as some of us need to believe that there is something after death, that there is some greater purpose to our lives, most of us want to believe that the past is somehow fixed, that things happened the way we think they happened.
But the past is actually an ephemeral thing; it becomes what we want or need it to be as the years go by and we shape our memories to fit our current needs. I am sure this is as true for how we remember the important figures in our lives as it is for everything else. We see them as we wanted them to be and ourselves as we would like to have been.
The past that only I remember is more emotional than real at this point, but it is my purest link to who I am. And I’ve been standing here all alone for way too many years.