"A pistol shot, at five o’clock, the bells of heaven ring,
Tell me what you done it for. No I won't tell you a thing.
Yesterday I begged you before I hit the ground,
All I leave behind me is only what I found…
Take up your china doll, take up your china doll,
Its only fractured and just a little nervous from the fall.”
- Grateful Dead, China Doll
I was captured today, by the old black and white photo of my parents, taken together back before they were married. In the picture, they are young and their joyful gazes were so innocently happy.
Their smiling eyes seem to have that universally blank expression on graduates’ faces in a million high school yearbook pictures. They thought then that they would be brave enough to meet the future together with joy. They were practically children then, not yet tempered by the challenges of marriage and parenthood. They were in love then, and they both died on this day, in their mid-seventies, older, wiser, sicker, but still in love. Their youthful confidence in love and in life was justified.
Feeling my old self of today, I recognize I’m no longer getting better, just older. I’m sinking slowly back from parent role, and more into helpless child. I wonder at their bravery in the face of the unknown – those two young people who became my Mom and Dad. They promised they would face it together – whatever came. They did, separated in death by exactly one year.
Mom went first, “defeated” as they say, in her brave battle with colon cancer. Dad was sentenced to one year of solitary confinement, finding himself alone after a lifetime together. He died on the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death, dropping like a stone as he got ready to go to mass. He died of loneliness and a broken heart, like a shattered china doll.
As old as I am today, as young as their picture was then, they’re still Mom and Dad. Sometimes, I’m afraid, because I’m older than the kids in their picture, and I don’t know what to do, and they can’t teach me.
Other times, looking into their eyes in that picture, I find that I’m doing okay after all. Increasingly, I feel like the brittle china doll, I see that picture and pick myself up, “only fractured and just a little nervous” from falling through youth into my own old age. I’m still alive – and I’m still standing after all. Thanks, Mom and Dad.