Once again, the liturgy of the season reminds us of the death that awaits us all. But we need no reminder this year. The big headline in the morning Hartford Courant shouts 200,000 dead. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its mortal threat are seldom out of mind, especially for those of us who have lived beyond our life expectancy. The odds of our surviving are two in 10, far too long.
So every morning as I prepare my daily cup of coffee in the quiet of our kitchen, my wife still sleeping peacefully, I give thanks for another day while I savor the aroma and taste of that singular brew.
And I look forward to the day’s opportunities — reading a chapter in a new novel or one in a just published work about justice; getting a new insight on cooking a favorite dish (a recent avocation); making progress on a book I have been sporadically writing for decades; that half-hour of meditation I find so calming; and, yes, working the Times mini-crossword or a sudoku puzzle.
But death is never out of mind. As I walk out of the house to get the morning paper 50 feet away, I remember that my cousin William Suazo died of a heart attack while carrying out that act of daily devotion to his wife, Teddy.
Then when I shower, I remember that Arthur Aragon, another cousin, died this past summer when he slipped in the bathtub in his home in California and suffered a head injury. A few days earlier, on his birthday, he had marveled on a call with his older sister, Teddy, that he had lived to 85. Days later his wife, Grace, suffering late-stage Alzheimer’s but apparently realizing her struggle was now pointless, silently slipped away.
When I think of COVID-19’s menace and sense its grip, I remember what a blessing it was for my father to die the way he did in 1981. He was a landscaper and, since I was based in New York and Mom and Dad lived in Colorado, I did not see them often.
But that February, with a hint of spring already in the air, he was busy tuning up his machines for another summer doing what he loved: manicuring lawns, building and tending flower beds, pruning trees and shrubbery.
I was going to the West Coast on a business trip and decided to spend the weekend with them on the way out. They felt well and it was a precious time of reminiscence of family optimism, struggle and success. He died quietly in his sleep a week later.
Most of us are ready to go. I have a brother, 81, who has already planned and paid for his funeral, down to the Frank Sinatra tune he wants to be played at his memorial service: “I did it my way.” But in the meantime, he continues to do what he has always loved, teaching in a Catholic school. In his teacher’s jargon, he is ready for his final exam.
However, with several other brothers and sisters, all seniors, we pray: “Please, Lord, spare me from COVID-19.” But if the dreaded fate comes, then I hope we can do it with the elan vital of my uncle Jose Dolores (Lolo) Perea, a deputy sheriff in San Miguel County, New Mexico.
Rushed to the hospital in 1967 with a massive intestinal hemorrhage that the surgeons could not stop, he gave instructions to Aunt Julia, and then, as his life ebbed away, worked on the daily crossword puzzle he enjoyed doing every day.