Yesterday I wrote about two trees that I saw on a recent hike in the forest. They were firmly connected at the base yet so very separate individual trees. If you saw them from a distance it would not occur to you that they shared a common trunk. I expressed that there are similarities in our human connections. We may be connected to someone and yet still retain our independence, our uniqueness and in some cases our connections are not very evident to others, maybe even to ourselves.
A very interesting true life example of connections and how we may or may not be aware of our connections came to my attention last night. An email from a friend relayed the news that at 1 AM his father had passed away. He was 93 years old. I knew that his health had suffered for a number of years and he had been living in a care centre for the last few years. Nonetheless the loss of a parent at any age, although sometimes imminent, is never taken lightly. It is heartbreaking, sad and a loss of a very significant life connection.
I remembered that my friend had recently visited with his dad and his mother who both lived in the same city but apart from each other. This had been a special visit with a multi-generational group congregating from various cities across the country in the city where the parents who were also grandparents and great grandparents lived in their elder years. It was planned and unfolded as an opportunity for everyone regardless of age or level of connection to spend some time together with the elders of the family. His parents were getting old after all and you just never know when someone will leave this world. Besides his mother’s health was truly failing and thus this was a chance to see her and be with her once again. She also lived in a care home, a different one than her ex-husband whom she had been estranged from for the last 46 years. I am sure that the memory of that visit is likely to be cherished by my friend and his family.
Now this is where this story becomes even more interesting. There was more in that email I got last night.
Some 12 hours after my friend’s father passed away his mother also passed away. She was 87 years old. What an incredible loss for my friend. To lose one parent is bad enough but to lose both on the same day is unfathomable.
Now I have heard about the phenomenon whereby elderly couples who after spending many years together die within hours or days of each other. One person dies and the other by coincidence dies very soon after. I do not believe it is just coincidence. Actually there is research that declares that by virtue of their connections people’s health is also connected. Simultaneous death of couples is attributed to things like severe distress because of the death of a partner, similar lifestyle habits and thus similar health status or common environments and thus similar health impacts from the environment. Simultaneous death of the partners makes sense for elderly couples that are still living together, are dependent on each other and who remain intimately involved in each other’s lives.
What do we make of the circumstances of my friend’s parents who had not only lived separately for some 46 years but apparently had no obvious relationship with each other over that time period? It seems that they led very separate individual lives. They lived in different care centres, they suffered from different illnesses, they were different ages and yet they both passed away on the same day. I have no idea whether she who was the second one to pass away was even aware of her ex-husband’s death at the time of hers. Nevertheless each of them passed away on the same day.
I wonder if the connection that brought them together in the first place, the connection that must have grown to some extent as they had their family and raised their children was not similar to the trunk of the tree that I wrote about yesterday. Perhaps the fundamental connection from their early years remained intact to some extent. Maybe the connections we cultivate in our lives do not easily dissolve. Maybe even though we appear to be very separate and are no longer obviously linked together it is just that the connection becomes invisible to us and to others.
I told my friend that I was at a loss for words but that I felt that the fact that both his parents passed away on the same day is tragic and beautiful at the same time. The tragedy is in the void that is left in the lives of those remaining here and the beauty is in the magic of their connections and our connections whether we are aware of them or not.
Irene McDermott © 2012