Earlier this week, my wife's BFF passed away. (They've been friends for 3 decades plus. Since long before "BFF" appeared in the language.) He was only a few weeks older than she is, and it's been traumatic. Giving rise to these musings.
For most of us, the first time we lose someone we know is when our grandparents die -- maybe when we are children; maybe when we are in our 20s. But it isn't generally traumatic. After all, they are ancient, and have been ancient all of our lives.
When, 2-3 decades later, our parents go, it shakes our world. But largely because they are our parents. Other people that age, even favorite aunts and uncles, don't have the same effect on us.
But what really rocks our world is when our contemporaries start to die.** Suddenly, death isn't something that happens to "old people", it's something that we can see happening to us. Or maybe it's that suddenly, we realize that we are now "old people". But in any case, things are never the same for us again.
I wonder if this may not be the biggest way in which those of us who were born since World War II, at least in the relatively wealthy West, differ from all of our ancestors. If you were born much before that, dying happened all around you, all the time. High levels of infant and child mortality meant that you saw some of your friends (not to mention siblings) die while you were all still children. You knew, deep down and personal, that you were not invulnerable and immortal. And, at the same time, contemporaries dying, while it saddened you, did not have the same traumatic effect that it does for us today. It was just part of life.
How has that difference from our ancestors' experience impacted other aspects of our world-view? And our lives? And how does it contribute to the mutual incomprehension with which we, and those who grow up in gang-infested inner cities, view each other?
** This may be why those who have been in military combat, or have had close friends in the military who died in battle, have noticably different outlooks on life (in my experience, anyway). Even when our childhoods were otherwise identical. Because they got this realization of personal mortality substantially younger than it hit the rest of us.