I'm sitting on this precarious edge of old/ not-old, for the most part in pure denial that, some day, we're going to die. Every now and again, however, something comes up and sucker-punches me, making me painfully aware that it's only a matter of time, that life's unfair, and that for many of us, it's going to show up on our doorstep when we're not ready for it.
Tom Petty had only just announced that this was his last major tour because he wanted to spend more time with his granddaughter. He was only 66. He wasn't even old. The only way this could have been any closer to retirony is if it came with a movie trailer and a bucket of popcorn.
I might be taking Tom Petty's death particularly hard because my father-in-law's death (also of heart issues) blindsided us the same way. My father-in-law had just done the last major fixing-up of his house. My son was a mere 18 months old. He had bought a new truck and was planning to go into semi-retirement doing occasional outdoorsy handyman stuff. We talked to him the night before, planning a joint mother's day dinner for that weekend for the mother-in-law and I. And then the next day, I got the call he was just... gone.
He was 62.
It's hard to wrap your head around when death pulls the rug out from under us; it was a long, bitter year as we kept finding reminders that my father-in-law had had way more life planned than he got, like when we found the toddler-sized creeper he had built in his garage for my son so they could work on cars together. It's taken me eight years to be able to write something about his death, and thinking about it still leaves me feeling angry and ripped off.
One by one, I'm watching the pillars of my childhood crumble. Some of them are only to be expected. But a lot of them seem to be going too fast. Last year was particularly terrible, as we lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher too soon (among a whole lot of others). Gord Downie is sick, and we don't know how much time he's got left. But on the other hand, at least he sees the writing on the wall and has some time to make peace with it, which I think, in many ways, is actually a comfort most people don't appreciate unless they have someone they love stolen away this unexpectedly.
Tom Petty happens to be one of the musicians who I'll always associate summer as a teenager with; his greatest hits CD, released in 1993, was in the soft cases in the cars of every one of my friends. And with his death, I'm reminded particularly of the song and video of Mary Jane's Last Dance (also released the same year).
Like a lot music videos at the time, the song was a rich puzzle with multiple meanings. Mary Jane: the free spirited girl who didn't want to settle down and broke a boy's heart. A drug addiction a man was trying to put aside. And in the video, a look at coming to terms with mortality and trying to outrun it, however unsuccessfully.
We don't know how much time we've got, and if we wait too long to do the things we want to in life, we might get cheated out of the things we want most. There's some sort of lesson I guess to be learned here in that it's probably not too early to start knocking things off our lives' bucket lists, because we never know if that dance might actually be our last.
All I know is I feel summer creepin' in.
Rest in peace, Tom.