Since ancient times the number “3” has held a particular fascination in society. A three sided triangle is considered the most durable shape possible, the universe has three spatial dimensions – length, width, and depth, Plato split the soul into three parts – the appetitive, the spirited, and the rational, while Aristotle had the principle of the three unities of time, place and action. Let’s not forget Freud’s id, ego and superego. The Chinese consider “3” to be a lucky number while the Vietnamese think it bad luck to take a photo with three people. We use the number to set things in motion – on the count of three, or stop them – three strikes. We prime our children with stories, nursery rhymes and fairy tales like The Three Musketeers, Three Blind Mice and The Three Little Pig. We also believe in the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, that the third time’s a charm and that death comes in threes – remember Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Ed McMahon all died within twenty four hours.
Death has been the main topic of conversation this week as there have been three of them in a short ten day period. “Don’t talk like that,” says Mike, uncomfortable whenever there is any talk of it.
“But it’s a part of life. Without death there can be no life and all life ends in death.”
“Yeah but we don’t have to talk about it,” he insists, choosing to ignore the inevitable end we all face.
The news of Krikor’s death was not a shock. Since his wife’s death a few years ago, he had begun his decline into dementia until his retreat from those around him became complete. He was a man of short stature whose quiet presence was in sharp contrast to his wife gregarious personality. He was the epitome of the strength and stability on which his children relied to achieve all that they did. They are now doctors, well regarded in their field, with families of their own.
“Did you hear about Rita?” Sossi asked a week later. “She passed away the other day.” She finally lost her ongoing battle with cancer which she was engage in for several
years. A woman with quiet strength and determination, Rita was intricately involved in the community and contributed much to it over the years. She had an easy smile and expressed herself with a soft voice that verged on husky. She always seemed to be everywhere at once: organizing events, attending concerts, going to meetings, and taking care of her family. Despite the sad news, Rita’s passing was a final freedom from a life that had become so full of physical pain.
And now the news of the third came a mere twenty four hours afterwards, late at night. It was the unexpected and accidental death of a woman in the midst of an active life. A petite woman who always looked like she was on the verge of being blown away by a slight breeze, Jenia was a powerhouse of a person who long ago decided to dedicate her energy, time and money to actively helping children in Armenia. In the dark, early days of the republic she sought out poor children in need of help and personally made their daily existence a little easier to live. She maintained a hectic schedule of travel every season to continue what she started almost two decades ago while still maintaining her position as the heart and soul of her family of a husband and three sons.
While neither Krikor, Rita or Jenia knew each other while alive, they are now forever linked in their deaths as the three people I knew who died in the middle of this September.
With the passing of Krikor and Jenia, parents of my friends from high school, the end of our youth and our eventual mortality came into sharp focus. We are now at a stage in life where the care and well being of our parents will become our responsibility. Their passing will unequivocally thrust us in the role of adults. We will no longer have parents to rely on for the things we have always taken for granted: holiday dinners where all the children come together, the favorite dish that only Mom can make, the seat that Dad always occupied, the guidance or advice we may sought from either of them or simply the comfort of hearing the voice of the person who loved us unconditionally. All this will be gone forever.
Standing with the other black clad mourners united in their show of grief and respect, the squabbles and old hurts, machination of social interactions and struggles of jobs and positions suddenly seems small and irrelevant. In the larger workings of the universe and the brief time we have to enjoy all the good that is possible during our lifetime everything else feels like a waste of energy and mental effort.
“It’s the end of an era,” Nancy said after Krikor’s funeral. She said it in reference to a lifestyle of whirlwind of parties, holidays, and life struggles she shared with her circle of friends in which Krikor had a place.
For me and for those of my generation, it is much more than an era. It is a graduation into a new stage in life: of being the grown-ups and creating an era of our own that our children can remember with fondness until they come of age and take over for us.
It is the inevitable and natural cycle of existence no matter how much Mike doesn’t want to talk about it. By sharing our hopes, fears and concerns about death would help us be less afraid and better prepared for its eventual arrival.