We just spoke of the subject, the suddenness and impartiality of death. The death rate of the human race is 100%. If you are born, it is the one intractable truth of your life, the one thing you can be absolutely certain you will obtain. It was in the news this week that life expectancy in the United States reached 78 years. This is misnamed. It should be called death expectancy. You can expect something in your body will fail by nature, by accident or by intention and you will die.
I talked with my mother last night. She called to say my dad received the Father's Day gift I sent. (Both my parents are a decade and then some past the life expectancy, by the way, and look good for a few more thousands of miles.) She told me this week they had been much engaged in the main social event of the elderly, attending funerals. There being one on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This may sound sad, but it's more a testament to the my parents conviviality that they have so many to pay adieu.
One of the deceased was a member of their church and another a long time friend. One died because his body gave out, the other in an auto accident. The third funeral was of a relative, a first cousin, Ruth Esther Downing Fields. (Only photo I have, 1923) Downing was her maiden name. She was the daughter of Clara Wilson Downing and J. Ellsworth Downing. The irony is Aunt Clara was the next entry for my Family Current: Wilson page. (There is another irony I will get to in a moment.)
Ruth was given her middle name in honor of my grandmother, Esther Wilson Brown, Clara's sister. It is a tradition, this honoring by name. My grandmother was named after her own grandmother, Esther Helen Bicking.
My mother had just lunched with the Downing Sisters a week ago after they had visited Ruth in the elder care home where she resided. Ruth suffered from Alzheimer's and had grown quite lost from this world well before her physical death.
Aunt Clara had seven children, one boy and six girls. Ruth was the fourth child. I knew her in my youth, but not as well as some of the others. She was born in 1923 and the age difference made her seem more an aunt than a cousin to me. Of those seven, I was closer to the youngest, Alice, who was only ten years older. She was like a big sister.
The second irony, if that's the word, came a half hour after I hung up the phone. My mother called back to say Dot Downing just died. Dorothy Wilson Downing Menig (photo from 1936) was Aunt Clara's second child, born in 1919. Oddly, despite her being only one year younger than my father, she was the other of Clara's offspring I was close to as a young person. Perhaps it was her free spirit and independence that caused a bond. I don't know. Dot went her own way and surprised everyone when she married at age 48 a retired career military man named Robert E. Menig and moved to Alaska.
Dot's husband died in 1990, so she lived as a single again these last 18 years. A couple weeks ago, she went into a home as well, not because of any infirmity, just because of the demands of her years. She was quite happy about the move and been looking forward to her new home. She was there a week when she fell out bed and broke her hip. Her broken body and her age conspired last night to take her life.
Both Ruth and Dot surpassed the death expectancy of 78, but did not escape worldly death. It gets us all in the end. This is not morbid knowledge, but a sobering one if you have given no thought to what comes after. We will not fear the certainty ahead of us all if we know to die for us is not loss, but gain through our hope in Christ Jesus as the one who conquered death for us.
Farewell my cousins, I will see you again at some future time and we will get caught up.
The photo at the top of the post was taken in 1923, the year Ruth was born, and shows from left to right, Ruth, William, Dot and Anna Downing.