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August 14, 2012 8:09 am

CULTURE SHOCK: The feel-good column of the summer

Written by Dante Geoffrey

It is often remarked how technology has shrunk our world down to an incredibly small size. The speeds of communication and information are such that anybody with a cell phone or computer is within reach, regardless of their coordinates on Earth.

I live a few states and one time zone away from 99 percent of the people I’ve known, but I’m able to interact with them almost as much as before I moved.

 

I keep up with friends via Facebook. I shoot my dad texts about fantasy baseball. I email with old professors (I mean teachers from my past — you’re not old, Holly) about our various adventures.

It’s pretty amazing how close I can feel even when I’m so far away.

But no amount of broadband cable or satellites or high-definition video chatting could physically place you at a loved-one’s side when they are ill.

I left behind three grandparents in California. And, as awful as this is to even mention and admit I think about, I worry that number will drop before I am able to return to the West Coast.

The week before I moved to Wyoming, it didn’t occur to me that when I visited my grandparents for the last time, I could be visiting them for the last time.

I was lucky to grow up with four healthy, active and loving grandparents. In fact, the first time I experienced the death of a friend or family member was just last summer, when my maternal grandfather, Geoffrey Boyd, passed away.

(“Geoffrey,” given to me at birth as a middle name, became my chosen surname soon before he died.)

Now, more than 1,000 miles away from the place I used to call home, the possibility that I’ve seen a loved one in person for the last time looms over me.

I should mention that none of my grandparents are currently battling a life-threatening disease, so my fear isn’t facing an imminent realization. But they all are older than 75, which, if you know about the life expectancy of Americans, is enough to make me feel uneasy.

This is a dark topic, I realize — a (probably healthy) departure from my typically apathetic, take-the-piss-out of everything attitude — but in some ways, this is necessary and therapeutic.

Honesty and expression, meet guilt and fear.

As I write, the thought of those loved ones reading this weighs on my conscience. Contemplating your own final days is one thing, but is it OK for them to be openly pondered by another?

Not that a reminder of their mortality will come as news to them.

The brevity of life is a thought that often crosses my 24-year-old mind, and I’m sure it will only increase in regularity as I age. So I am comfortable in assuming my grandparents — all 24-years-old a few times over — have had the realization their lives are much nearer the end than the beginning.

I’ve yet to experience death on an extreme, personal level. I have not been beside a hospital bed while a family member took their last breath. I have never received a phone call that began with “Is this Dante? I’ve got some bad news.”

I don’t know that I — or anyone besides a friendless recluse —  can go through an entire life avoiding that moment. And I don’t know that I’d want to.

But if and when it does happen, I want to be in a position to take action. Not that I could change the outcome.

I just don’t want to be a 20-hour car ride away. I don’t want others to remember a death and think “...and Dante wasn’t there.”

When my family gathers for Christmas in 20 years and discusses how great my grandparent was, I don’t want to feel guilty for something I couldn’t control.

Before I close, let me apologize. The amount of I’s I’ve used to discuss the hypothetical but inevitable passing of family is selfish, I know.

But I can’t shake the fear the phone will ring, and I will be nothing more than a helpless recipient of bad news.

And I will be left wishing the world had never become so small, allowing news I’d rather not hear, and unable to affect, to travel so fast.

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