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Boomer Bytes #6: Death

Editor’s Note: Below is Steve Canipe’s fourth column in his series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

  • See second column – Are We Really Old? – here
  • See third column – Cars and More Cars – here
  • See fourth column – Getting Educated – here
  • See fifth column – Home Alone? – here


By Steve Canipe

Feb. 21, 2014. What is the old saying…”nothing is certain but death and taxes.”? This has been attributed to several folks – but probably is most often related to Benjamin Franklin’s letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, which was re-printed in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1817, in which he said   “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”


Well it is a little early to talk about taxes – in another couple of months perhaps!!  But this column is going to look at and explore death that is certain for each of us.  I am not going to dwell on the religious aspects of a resurrection or of life beyond death. I will leave these points to the various religious and philosophical scholars out there. This column will explore death from a more personal standpoint.

Since most boomers either will have or will soon lose someone dear to them, I thought this might be an opportune time to consider what does it mean –personally.  As an older boomer, I have lost my grandparents, my mom and dad and just recently an older sibling…my sister. I,  like most of you,  have lost dear friends sometimes in an accident and sometimes to disease or illness. 

Death affects each of us differently depending on our own psychological leanings.  As a young man (a kid really) I lost some high school classmates in a car accident and in another case in a boating accident.  They were here and then they weren’t any longer.  There was a hurt and sense of loss that happened but as I grew and my interests diverged from high school the losses just sort of melted away from my consciousness. 

I have also lost friends as an adult – people who were my age and seemed healthy, as healthy as I anyway.  They have died of stroke/heart attack, those ailments of old age.  No one with the dreaded “C” word (cancer), at least not yet.

In the case of grandparents, they were always “old” and I knew that old was often the prelude to death. So while I miss them again their death was a very natural part of the way I viewed the world.  To some extent this is also true with my parents but here I feel differently about their passing.

Growing up my dad was about the “dumbest” person I knew – certainly the dumbest who was trying to give me advice.  As I got older his “dumbness” seemed to decrease in an inverse scale to my aging – the older I got the smarter he became.  This could be called maturing, I suppose.  I still find myself wondering what he would say or do in a particular situation.  He passed away in 1996 at the age of 81.

My mom was from a long-lived family (she had an aunt that was 101, her dad was 95, and four sisters and brothers who were over 90) and lived until 2010 when she was a month shy of being 92. With my mom death seemed different – maybe because for a time she lived with us and was really part of my adult household.  I don’t know. 

When she became too ill and had to go to assisted living, she was first at Glenbridge but then due to the fact that her older friends could not easily drive the 75 miles from her home to Boone, my sister said she could look after her at a facility in Lincolnton where her older friends could visit more easily.

During the time after my dad passed away and when Mom came to live with us (~12 years), I talked with her multiple times a week – not every day but at least four or five times a week.  We did not talk about anything in particular but just talked about “stuff.”  I was still getting her knowledge about things that I did not remember.  She shared things that were funny – like the time when I was about 2 years old and she was picking vegetables in the garden and I was along.  A wasp came flying by and since she was deathly afraid of wasps, she ran off and left me alone in the garden with the wasp!!  She told me that she figured God would look after me but for her she was not sure!!  She avowed that I did not get stung.

But even with a parent that you are very close to, there is something different about losing a sibling.  This is a person who is really close to you, being in the same generation. She was a good deal older than me (11 years) and was also the oldest child. You have special memories that you share – some funny now that were not funny at the time when you were both younger. 

One particular example I remember vividly was when I was about 5 and my sister was about 16.  I’m pretty sure I was a normal (read that bratty) kid-brother.  She was asked to babysit me while Mom and Dad went somewhere.  Our plumbing had this odd habit of occasionally but regularly making this gurgling sound.  (Probably when the water ran or someone flushed the toilet.) She told me it was a monster in the pipes coming to get me if I did not behave.  At one point she tied me in a chair next to the kitchen sink.  The sink made these noises and I was terrified!! I remember getting loose and hitting her over the head with a toy. I was both frightened and very angry.  When she told Dad after he got home, all he said was that I should not have done it, but I heard him tell Mom that she deserved it!! As I am writing this column, I remember other happenings like telling one date that I didn’t like him because another date gave me better presents!!  Oh so many shared experiences.

Recently with the passing of my sister Carolyn the connectedness and that special sibling bond was broken..  When your older sibling dies, you then become the oldest in your family and in the normal course of events, you will be the next in your family to depart this life.

Being older, she seemed to always be picking on me in one way or another.  To this day, I am not ticklish because she held me down and tickled me until I was no longer ticklish. This is something that my wife finds terrible, as she is very ticklish, and I seem to be unable to be tickled any more.  Just some of those totally nonsensical things you remember but which make you family!!

It is not that I am particularly afraid of dying – I guess I think of Blood, Sweat, and Tears and the lyrics to their rendition of And When I Die… “Give me my freedom for as long as I be; All I ask of living is to have no chains on me; All I ask of living is to have no chains on me; And all I ask of dying is to go naturally; Oh, I want to go naturally.” See the whole set of lyrics at  http://www.metrolyrics.com/and-when-i-die-lyrics-blood-sweat-tears.html

There is a loss of family memory that occurs when an older sibling passes away. This was brought home to me when I was talking with my younger brother at the funeral.  There were so many things that he doesn’t know that happened in the family.  These are the sort of skeletons-in-the-closet type things.  Not that our family skeletons are really bad – no murderers, robbers, or rapists, etc.  Just those little things you don’t share outside the family — like an uncle who was in the Army and who got busted from sergeant to private due to drinking and getting in a fight in Korea or an aunt who was an alcoholic.

My sister-in-law opined that maybe my brother and I should get together and I could share some of this old family knowledge with him.  It is actually not a bad idea, because when I pass away, there will be no one else with that family institutional knowledge any more. With the push for genealogy and family history, the type things I know could easily be lost to the next generation.  They are also the type of things that are not really important either so I could not just sit down and think I should tell this and I should tell that. If I remembered nothing the world would continue to turn but the richness of the “family” would not be the same.

This column is not meant to be morbid or maudlin in consideration of death…it is just as Franklin opined “certain.”  It is meant to be sort of a celebration of the life of my sister – she and her husband of nearly 60 years raised three fine children.  They were not wealthy; not overly educated; not well traveled;  so many nots for them.  But they were basically pretty good human beings – they helped their neighbors and friends; helped their children and grandchildren.  And now they are both gone.  Probably about the nicest thing anyone can say about a person when they die is that they made a difference to people.

I will certainly miss her and already have several times thought “I need to call Carolyn and tell her …”  This will pass as the reality of her no longer being alive takes hold along with the reality that now I am the oldest in the family!!

I know what I want people to say about me is that I made a difference. Please share your thoughts on this topic with me.  If you have experienced a loss of friend or family member, my condolences.  If you feel able and are willing to share your thoughts then please do so.  Please post at the end of the column or drop me a note at boomerbytes@yahoo.com. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.