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Today is my birthday, and I got to thinking at the age of 80, I'm lucky to be here. I shake my head in wonder when I think how unafraid I was of doing anything dangerous. I jumped off the cliffs into the shallow river below. Our gang of friends dared each other to crawl through a culvert just before a truck drove over the top. I can still feel the dirt falling onto me and see how filthy I was when I crawled out the other side. That was just kid stuff, my head said. I'm invincible. Until at the swimming hole, a boy we all hung out with was the last person out of the creek. A loud thunderclap followed by a lightning bolt struck and killed him.

Am I lucky to still be here? A Chinese curse is "May You Have A Long Life." When I first heard the saying, I thought, gee, that's a nice sentiment. Why is it a curse?

In my 30s and having PTSD, I got it; a long life means you will experience the loss of family, friends, and even dear pets. Losses can come through illness, suicide, drug overdoses, or accidents. You can also lose a sense of self and question, 'why the hell am I here?'

I experienced the deaths of my father, brother, and best friend within nine months. And my children's close friend died in a motorcycle accident.

Years later, my thought was, well, I'll never go through that again; three deaths in a row. WRONG! Ten years later, my youngest child, a boy, and my oldest, also a boy, died within 15 months of each other, and a few months later, another friend of mine died, plus a young man I had babysat for as a teenager.

I am one of five, smack in the middle of four brothers, and only the youngest brother is still alive. I was with my mother and each of the three brothers when they passed.

As time goes by, healing does take place, but for some of us, it is more like a scab over wounds. You are happy when someone remembers their name and recollects the times shared. You are also conflicted; cry quietly inside because you know a time will come, or has come, when those grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or friends will say, "Who was that? I didn't know him."

Nobody will remember, I pondered as my husband, and I cleaned the headstones we had erected and added names for genealogical reasons. I lie. I cleaned the stones and added names because, in my head, no one should ever be forgotten.

In 2019, my grandson, whom my husband of 40+ years and I raised, died at age 37. We bought another headstone. This time we added our names to our boy, our grandson's stone.

"Do you ever think," I asked my husband," if anyone will clean these headstones when we are gone or say of us, 'Oh, I remember her? I remember him and recall untold stories about us and smile?'"

"Nope," he said.

He's a man of few words.

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