It’s fragile, this thing called life. Fortunately, most of us don’t go through our days thinking about our vulnerability, at least not until someone we know passes away suddenly and unexpectedly.
Until the moment she died from an aneurysm last week, Erika Riebel had been a mother, a wife, a lawyer and a candidate for family court judge in Saratoga County in upstate New York, where we all grew up. She was also a breast cancer survivor. Newspaper reports said she’d been campaigning at the county fair just a few days earlier.
And now she was gone.
Her death spawned a flurry of emails, phone calls and text messages among those of us in the class of ’81 who went to high school with her and could still recall her vivacious personality and joyous laugh. Articles appeared on Facebook, and people who hadn’t spoken in years were suddenly in touch again. Friends and classmates gathered at her memorial service to celebrate her accomplished life and mourn her untimely death.
One of my friends who lives in Florida said he’d only been recently making plans to get in touch with Erika. The night before his sister called to break the news, he was reading old letters from her. Now he knew he could no longer just make plans to reconnect with old friends. He had to do it.
We take it for granted that our spouses will come home at the end of a long day, that our kids will tumble out of school buses and that we’ll see old friends again at reunions and parties. As we age, we may fret that someone will become sick and die. We never expect them to pass away without any warning.
And yet it happens all the time, be it a car accident, a workplace shooting or an aneurysm. It’s just not supposed to happen to us or anyone we know.
Most times, I end my day thinking about what needs to accomplished the next day. A doctor’s appointment. A lunch date. A work deadline. But on those days when I’m fully cognizant of our vulnerability, I end my days grateful that my loved ones are safe and sound, at least for today.