I am 1 year old, feeding Uncle George french fries — the only thing he will eat after chemo. In the blink of an eye, I am saying my first final goodbye at his funeral. He was 17-years-old.
I am 3 years old, playing with my toys in our apartment. In the blink of an eye, my parents are explaining to me that Grandpa Kenny is gone.
I am 5 years old, sitting with Pops in his chair, sharing a bowl of popcorn, and being silly with Uncle Mike, twisting the saying “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” In the blink of an eye, Uncle Monkey is lost to the flames of a devastating house fire and Pops doesn’t have much longer. Two funerals in a matter of weeks.
I am 7 years old, already no stranger to death. Two of my great grandpas die within as many months. In the blink of an eye, two of my great grandmas are widowed for a second time and will spend the remaining decades of their lives as such.
I am 8 years old, coming home from a fun weekend with my dad. I walk into an unusually crowded and somber house to the words, “Your Uncle Dale has killed himself.” In the blink of an eye, the word suicide is a part of my vocabulary and my family story.
I am 9 years old, spending summer days churning ice cream on the back patio with Grandpa. In the blink of an eye, I am mourning the deepest loss of my young life, being haunted by nightmares for years. I tear up every time I think of him.
I am 11 years old, sitting in the dim light of the living room, Granny has passed away. In the blink of an eye, I am struck by the realization I will be attending a woman’s funeral for the very first time. It is oddly unsettling.
I am a teenager, a young adult, time and time again, being informed of funeral arrangements for peers, people I went to school with, people I have talked to and known. In the blink of an eye, they were killed in terrible car accidents, passing away after a seemingly innocuous fall, battling cancer and losing, dying in so many ways.
I am 21 years old, Grumpy has passed away. He was affectionately named so by me when I was in first grade. He was not really grumpy at all, but it stuck. In the blink of an eye, all the afternoons spent defrosting his ancient fridge and having supper at his house are only a memory.
I am 24 years old with a binder full of wedding plans. It is three months until the big day. In the blink of an eye, I am a cancer patient with a planner full of radiation treatments, surgeries, and chemotherapy.
I am settling into my comfy chair with snacks to watch the World Series. In the blink of an eye, I am in the emergency room and then the ICU, trying to dissolve a blood clot before it causes a life-threatening embolism.
I am still fighting my own battle with cancer and, in the blink of an eye, I face a harsh reminder of what is at stake as Uncle Russ loses his battle.
I am 27 years old, pushing my firstborn into the world. I have beaten cancer and overcome infertility. Our son is born blue-faced but healthy. In the blink of an eye, before I even get to hold him, I am being prepped for emergency life-saving surgery. I am bleeding out.
I wake up in ICU, blink my eyes, and in the same moment I rejoice the fact that I have survived, I mourn the fact that my womb has not. I will never carry another pregnancy.
I am 29 years old, an amazing woman is acting as a gestational surrogate, carrying our twins. Great Grandma Irene is so excited for their arrival, but she passes away just weeks before they are born. In the blink of an eye, the circle of life becomes so apparent. When my daughters are born, the youngest looks just like Great Grandma.
I am 30 years old, Uncle Neil’s cancer is terminal. In the blink of an eye, my father is the last surviving of his family. He is 54 years old. His mother, father, three brothers — none lived past the age of 58.
I am 31 years old, Great Grandma Elizabeth isn’t doing well, but we are beginning to think about celebrating her upcoming 100th birthday. She doesn’t make it. I feel, for the first time, contentment with death. She lived and loved for 99 years. Though I wonder if, to her, the years passed in the blink of an eye.
I am 34 years old, making preparations for the family to gather together at our house for Thanksgiving. In the blink of an eye, Uncle Tom dies from a sudden heart attack. The family gathers at the funeral service in disbelief.
I am 36 years old, planning Easter brunch and looking forward to our annual multi-generational family vacation. We receive a phone call in the middle of the night. In the blink of an eye, we realize we didn’t have as much time with Grandpa Steve as we thought we would.
I am 37 years old, on the phone listening to a voice I haven’t heard in years. Her 17-year-old son has been killed in a car accident. In the blink of an eye, I am reminded, yet again, of how we are all one unexpected tragedy away from life-shattering heartbreak.
You’d think by now I’d learn to cherish every precious moment of life — but instead, I spend most days wondering what might happen the next time I blink.