Robin Williams. Lauren Bacall. It’s been a hard week already. I remember looking at my horoscope natal chart, thinking about my Saturn return and the Dramatic Voice Inside My Head pronouncing, “Now begins the Season of Loss.”
I have learned a lot from my parents and my older friends. The really raw deal you get for being a successful old person is that you watch your loved ones die.
If you really love life, you have a hard time seeing how any end can be a good end. I really don’t like the “live fast, die young” thing. I was always pretty sure I wanted to see at least one more day. I had had friends and classmates who died young, taken away too soon. Yes, in my mind Janice, who died playing in the sand dunes while tunneling through to make a playhouse, will always be young and beautiful. David will always be fresh-freckled, bright and creative. Childhood friends, classmates, they are frozen in my memory, young, hopeful, laughing. And gone.
My first Saturn return brought my mother’s death. While I had studied astrology intensively on my own in my late teens, the concept of a Saturn return didn’t occur to me the first time around. I was really busy then. I was working full time and going to college full time. I was lucky my cats still recognized me when I came home at night. I was going with a very handsome man I would not marry, would not choose to and ultimately did not. I was old enough, jaded enough to know that marriage is a financial relationship as much as anything else. I was well fond of my feller but did not want to mix bank accounts with him.
There wasn’t anything I could do to reverse my mother’s cancer. I hated that. I wanted to be able to set things right. I was too aware at the time that one of the reasons I chose computer science instead of medicine was that if a computer program died, you didn’t have to contact the grieving next of kin. You just had to fix it. It was sufficiently complicated to hold my interest but the risk was at least “nothing personal.”
My mom took a long time to die. We talked about a lot of things before she died. She had time to decide how she wanted things to go. No funeral, she said, and had things doled out the way she wanted. She spent time the way she wanted for the most part. She had a booth at the flea market as long as she had the strength to do it. I spent my vacations with her those years when I didn’t have to study for finals in my progress towards making a career for myself.
My friends and I discussed whether it would be better to know, have time and be prepared or to live right up to the last minute your regular life and go all in a puff. I joked that I thought I’d rather have time to prepare because there were things I needed to burn!
But that was my first Saturn return.
For my second Saturn return, I wondered what it would be. Losing my mom was awful of course. I had not realized at the time that my brother resented that I had continued to work and go to college while my mother was in her last illness. He didn’t know at the time that she and I had discussed whether I should quit my job and school and come to stay with her to help her. She said no. She told me her time was over but that I had to live.
What would be hard this time, like it was for me the first time around? So many years ago I had looked at my own chart and noticed my natal Saturn was in my 8th house, the house Ultimate Things like sex, death and taxes. No namby-pamby Saturn return for me.
Now comes the Season of Loss.
It’s not like people didn’t die every day. They did. But as my Saturn return approached, I became aware of those around me dying. “Kids” from my high school class started passing away. John and Kirby, part of my small group of friends in high school, both died of colon cancer. They weren’t the only ones. It seemed like a lot of the guys I went to school with had colon cancer. What was it? We all lived in a small town in New Mexico, drank the same water and, at least some of them smoked the same weed. Pesticides? Unrelenting sunlight? The dust in the wind from the west? A lifetime of junk food? Or just… our age, our time, the Season of Loss? Any of those. All of them. None of them.
Elders from my circle of friends, friends of friends have begun to leave for the next life. No matter whether a life was lived piously and with prudent self-restraint or whether the mortal coil was played in so hard, so often, so well that it seemed remarkable to have lasted so long, now that I have reached my crone years, my lovies are checking out.
I remember my father’s ennui at 90, not so long ago, when he kept asking why he was still here. His adorable wife, my step-mother Noni had left too soon, burned up by lung cancer, and she, a woman who never smoked. His play-mate was gone. Everyone was astonished. Even he expected to die before her. No one expected her to die…maybe ever. She liked to dance and sew and garden and cook healthy meals. She avoided playing stressful games around the dinner table after meals and so excused herself from our pleasantly cutthroat rounds of Hearts. But go she did, sweet woman, waiting until my sister and I had arrived that evening to make sure Daddy was well-cared for.
I learned a hard lesson, that the gift of a long life means you watch those around you leave before you. It taught me the value of my natural habit of making diverse friends with young and old, people from many backgrounds. At the end, if all you’ll eat is macaroni and cheese and there’s a pasta shortage, you won’t be a happy camper.
I steel myself for the Season of Loss. I don’t favor ending my own life, but I can’t be angry at people who choose that. Now, instead of feeling the need to burn things before I go, I think I would be satisfied just to find them! They’re probably in the garage. They may have been thrown out long ago. But I have started to prepare, just a little, should I be taken unawares, reminded by the recent loss of friends and by the elegant Lauren Bacall, that what you have, including your story, is no longer yours when you go. Death harvests one life with the swing of the scythe and moves on; you go to your next adventure. What remains belongs to the rest of us.
Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda quoted Antoine De Saint-Exupery‘s book “The Little Prince,” “You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… You – one you – will have the stars that can laugh.”