The Last One Standing

I used to think that once you reached a certain age, death lost some of its power over you. That the more losses you sustained, the easier it became to accept them. But I was wrong. My mother is approaching her 88th birthday. Her mind is still pretty clear, and she doesn't have any serious physical conditions (that I'm aware of). But the web of relationships that supported her for most of her life is falling apart, strand by strand. Her brother. My father. Brother-in-law and sister-in-laws. Her sister.

There were two couples who were a constant part of my mother's life: Mildred and "Buddy," and Irma and Bob. My mother and Mildred were babies together; she's known Irma almost as long. As often happens, the men went first: Bob, then my Dad, and last fall, "Buddy." Now Irma is very ill.

This is one loss I'm dreading. It's as though the three women--Irma, my mother, and Mildred--balance each other in some way. If one leaves, the other two will falter. When I visit my mother, I look at the photographs on the bureau in her bedroom and realize almost everyone in them has died. I cannot imagine my mother's loneliness.

My mother sometimes says to me, "Getting old stinks." It stinks to have the chance to be the last one standing.