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A celebration of life

Every morning, as I pick up my newspaper, I always check the obituaries first. No, it’s not because of the old joke that I am checking to see if my name is there.

Now that I am getting long in the tooth, I realize that my contemporaries are also aging. Like all of us, I check on my friends and acquaintances, making sure that no one had an unplanned meeting with their maker. Dear Richard and I often comment that, “Everyone listed today is younger than we are.” Or just the opposite – when the deceased are 88, 93 and 101.

Scanning the bold lettered obit list has become a habit. Living in a small town for over 40 years, I know a lot of people. But I don’t really KNOW everyone I know. I mean, I recognize many of them by sight or by exchanging pleasantries, but I don’t have any idea what their names are. Or where they live. And it isn’t until I read their obit that I realize “Oh, gee, that’s the lady who was always so nice to me at the deli counter. So that’s her name.” And often, upon reading about her life, I learn that her brother is that friendly guy who sells me firewood. Obituaries are very informative.

Usually, we know about our friends who are gravely ill, and sometimes I find blessings on the obit page. Their struggle is finally over. The family’s long labors are, at last, done. And sometimes, sadly, there are stunning, upsetting surprises.

This past weekend, I went to yet another pandemic-delayed celebration of life. When her obituary appeared one year ago, I was taken aback. She and her husband had moved away, and I had lost track of them. I did not know about her illness. But I had worked with her husband and had great respect for him. I was very sad about the lengthy travail they had shared. He was devastated. His much younger wife was gone, leaving their daughters, grandchildren, and him to carry on without their shining star.

I have been to more than a handful of celebrations of life this year. The obituary page sometimes list as many celebrations as funerals. Covid has forced us to rethink how – and when – we say goodbye. And it got me thinking….

I had a challenging year in 2020, landing in the hospital more than I ever contemplated and culminating in Covid. Despite the cursed Long Covid leftovers, I feel very lucky to be enjoying 2021.

Back in June, I began to think about all those celebrations of life. And it occurred to me that I really wanted to celebrate being alive. Now.

After all, when I finally do kick the bucket, the family might have a celebration of my life, and I’ll miss it! That’s no fun.

I kicked COVID, and I’m having a significant birthday this fall. It just seemed like the right time.

The plan was to use the big, bad birthday as the excuse, but the party was going to be a celebration with all the people who have been important in my life. We would all revel in being alive – together.

It has been a long time since any of us have had a reason to put on our glad rags. And mostly, we’ve had no place to go.

So we planned that the invitation would ask everyone to get all gussied up, put on their dancing shoes, and come for food, drink. and live music. Most of all, the agenda included friendship, hugs, laughter – a true celebration of life. One that I was not going to miss.

But no. The party has been canceled.

COVID did it again. The Delta variant has convinced my family that we just can’t risk hosting this joyful bash. Too many people indoors, and too late in the year for outdoors.

None of us want to be responsible for a beloved name landing in the bold print on the front page.

Group gatherings are getting back in masks and social distancing has returned. I could not picture what a party would look like under those circumstances: Get a plate of food and a glass of joy juice, find your distance, then take your mask off. Then put it back on to stand around chatting and laughing? Take it off for another glass, and then put it on for distant dancing? It didn’t add up.

So for now, we, just family, will celebrate this significant birthday quietly. It just won’t include party clothes, pinot noir and polkas … not yet anyway.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their self-absorbed Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com

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