A few weeks ago, I saw a notice at the Rowlett library advertising a writing contest with the theme of "Into the Unknown." I thought why not and submitted this short essay. Amazingly, I placed first in the Short Work division and received a cash prize as well as a certificate from the City of Rowlett. It's a somewhat longer than my usual posts, but I hope you'll enjoy it.
Into My Personal Unknown
This is not about space travel, a cure for cancer, driverless vehicles, or artificial intelligence. Instead, it is a very personal essay about the great unknown that lies ahead for every human being. I will be 78 years old in a few short months and nearly every day brings a reminder that I am getting closer to the end. I say this not with sadness or melancholy, but with a sense of curiosity about my future.
Recently I have been reminded of the fragility of human life, especially for those in my wider circle of friends and family. The young father taken from my second cousin and her sons by an incurable brain tumor, the sudden death of my childhood friend’s husband and my brother-in-law’s long, complicated, near-fatal illness in just the last month have all served as a wakeup call that the expected length of our existence on earth is not a given. Grief envelops me as I contemplate these events and the deaths of others precious to me, particularly my younger brother, dead at 54 from pancreatic cancer.
My father and mother passed away at 84 and 91, respectively. Death at their ages was not unusual or unexpected, but I find myself missing them terribly some days. I long to call my mom and fill her in about her three great-grandchildren. I miss conversations with my dad, who was full of wisdom. One day long ago, when I said I wished I could close my eyes and my three children would be out of diapers, he said, “Don’t ever do that, because when you open them, they’ll be getting dressed for the prom.”
My closest friends are scattered around the country. Each of these women are now widows, carving out new lives and navigating their senior years without a spouse. I have been lucky in that respect. My husband and I have been married more than five decades and while I hope with all my heart that he will be with me for a long time, I sometimes find myself wondering if I would cope as well as my widowed friends. I have always been independent and self-sufficient, so there’s that.
That brings up another subject. If I die first, will my husband be able to cope on his own? Neither of us want to burden our children with care responsibilities. We had a taste of that last summer when I was recovering from surgery and my husband suffered from painful back problems at the same time. Thankfully, our son was able to stay with us and take over for a few weeks. But when staying in our home becomes difficult, what will we do next? Both of us are in decent health but we are very much aware that a heart attack, stroke, or bad fall could upend our lives.
I try to stay as active as possible, taking care of the house and our dog. I read voraciously both online and in print and love to garden. Each day, I complete the New York Times crossword puzzle and play Wordle (though not always successfully). We support our busy daughters and their families by being available for school drop off and pick up when needed and transport kids back and forth to sports and other activities. Sometimes, I wonder how much longer driving a car will be a possibility for me. I have already stopped driving at night because oncoming headlights make it hard to see and I have trouble judging curbs and turns in the dark.
Often, I cannot remember a word or name that used to come to mind easily. I think that some of this may have been caused by a major back surgery five years ago with 11 hours under anesthesia, but it happens more frequently than I would like as I age. I had a long career as a writer, so this is fairly upsetting to me.
You might be getting a bit depressed reading my words so far but take heart. I have had a satisfying life, a long and happy marriage, a fulfilling career, and the chance to raise three terrific human beings. My grandchildren are a constant joy and I take every opportunity to connect with them. I bake cupcakes for birthday parties, attend every concert, cheer at each athletic contest, and rejoice in their achievements. The two older ones are buried in their phones, of course, but my youngest still loves to sleep over and play games with grandma. I hope I am around long enough to see each of them graduate from high school and maybe college. I may not get to attend weddings or hold great-grandchildren, but you never know.
I always expected to live a long time. My four grandparents were an important presence in my young life. I treasure what my maternal grandmother taught me about sewing and how my gentle grandfather showed me how things grow. My paternal grandpa and grandma taught me something about business. Two of them nearly made it to their 100th birthday. I hope that I can be that important in the lives of my grandkids as they grow to adulthood.
What will my grandchildren remember about me when I am no longer here? I hope that they will inherit my love of music, words, writing, and reading. Perhaps they will learn to enjoy cooking and baking as much as I do. I want them to honor their parents and remember all they have done on their behalf.
What do I wish for them? I hope they have lifelong friends they can count on. I want them to travel the world and know not everyone is just like them. More importantly, I hope they will be kind to others and generous with their time and money as they grow older. May they fall in love many times, have their hearts broken once or twice, but eventually find their soulmate and have children as wonderful as they are.
No one knows when life’s journey on earth will end and whether there will be a new one in the great beyond, perhaps accompanied by treasured family and friends. I want to be reunited with my three dachshunds and have as much chocolate as I desire--not kidding about this. I have had a rewarding life and continue to treasure each day as it comes, even as the end draws near.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.