Everyone is dying. Lately I have attended too many funerals, burials and memorial services. “What’s going on?” I asked my husband. “We haven’t seen a wedding in more than a year, but there seems to be a funeral every single month!”
My wise man nodded. “You’re right, but there’s a good reason for that. Our generation is at the age when our elders leave us, most of our kids are married or live far away, and with their graduations behind us, there’s little excitement left.”
His explanation sounded logical, but it did little to cheer me up. Some of our recent losses have been premature and unexpected, but regardless of the age of the deceased, with each piece of sad news my heart becomes a little heavier. I’ve seen more than my share of losses at a young age. Shouldn’t I be immune to such grief?
The bewilderment stayed with me until last month, when a friend’s mother passed away and she asked me if I would say a few words at her wake. Of course I accepted, but after hanging up, once again the deep melancholy that hit me came as a surprise.
Our families have always been close. The departed was so dear to my oldest sister that she used to call her ‘Maman’. But I only knew her from a few brief visits. She had lived a full life, raised four wonderful children, and not only was fortunate enough to see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but also lived to witness the arrival of her twin great great grandchildren. True that her family had every reason to grieve, but I didn’t have a close enough relationship to justify such a deep sense of loss. The realization of why I felt that way did not come to me until after I had given my speech, when the evening was done, and when we went back to their lovely home.
For decades, my friend had lived with her parents in a beautiful house and took care of them in her loving, patient way. There hangs a majestic portrait of her late father in the family room and each corner of the house bears tender memories of a time that will never be again. I stared at the silent piano and all of a sudden, the house felt empty, void of all joyful sounds. Her mother had been a serene and rather quiet lady. So how could her absence leave such a profound silence behind? Then it dawned on me. We weren’t simply mourning the loss of a loved one. This was the end of an era.
As my generation grieves for its parents, with each loss another page is ripped from our diary, another sweet dream is on its way to being forgotten. Gone are the people whose taxis were the droshkies, who were familiar with Aab-anbar, and who knew what kind of a coin a dah-shahi was. Gone are the Norooz mornings when the entire living room was filled with relatives and friends who had come to kiss the hand of the family’s eldest. And gone are the days of utmost respect and respectful histories. As the never-ending fairytales of the olden days gave way to television’s prime-time soap operas, we became detached from the loving bosoms that held a thousand-and-one stories. Elders whose mere presence was the wall of strength we could lean on left us to learn the art of standing alone.
The memories that my generation continues to cherish are fading too fast. If life is like a tree, then what we are sadly witnessing is the loss of its beautiful leaves. True as it may be that the golden tree looks splendid, in our hearts we feel the absence of its foliage and dread the bare branches to come. Soon new little leaves will grow, enabling the tree to provide ample shade for others, but it will never be the same, not the same leaves, not an identical shade.
Now that I know the reason for my excessive sorrow, somehow it is easier to cope. The peaceful feeling that wrapped around me following this revelation continues to grow. I know there’s no way to change the cycle of life. Time will pass and all eras must come to an end. A writer, the only way I know to save a fragment of what there was is to write about it.
So I write of the glorious era that was, a time when “you had to be there” to know. In my mind, I walk down an unpaved alley after a heavy rain, pass the fragrant jasmines and circle a tiled fountain, and finally lose myself in the arms of a grandmother whose white hair smells of mint soap. The era is long gone, but like a leaf saved between the pages of an old diary, I urge my words to preserve a slice of that life. I smile at the prospect that my dried leaf may provide an image for the young eyes that may have never seen an old maple tree in the fall.