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The Man Who Wasn't There


"I haven't seen Gummy in 15 years."

I uttered those words recently, about my late maternal grandmother, after remembering that she'd died in March of 1998, and that I hadn't seen her for a couple months before then. What struck me about the turn-of-phrase is how it differs from how we typically think of those who are no longer with us. Usually we say, "she's been dead 15 years," or "She passed away 15 years ago." But the words I uttered -- which I gave no thought to during the moment -- were different.

We tend not to think of those who are dead as possibly able to be seen or heard from again, for obvious reasons, but the lack of their presence in our lives is akin to someone who is still living, but whom we haven't communicated with in awhile. Only this time, the permanency of their absence is without question. I will never again see Gummy's face (outside of a photograph). I won't be able to hear her voice, my grandmother's voice that I loved so much to listen to during our many talks about a variety of subjects.

These particular thoughts of Gummy came flooding back to me a few days ago while watching (of all things) an episode of the 1970s TV series Ellery Queen. The late, great actor/comedian George Burns made a cameo, via a filmed performance, as the murder victim. Burns had been an entertainment staple in my life for some twenty years, the old vaudevillian who said he was going to live to be 100 (and he did), acting in various movies and television shows. Then, in 1996, he died. No big shakes, as I didn't know him personally. Yet, for awhile, I'd been used to seeing him around. So it was nice seeing him reappear on the Ellery Queen episode.

Oddly, perhaps, it reminded me of Gummy. Another old person (during my lifetime) whom I'd been used to having around for some two decades, whom I hadn't seen in a long time. But with Gummy, I realized, there would be no televisual recording on-hand that would allow me to see and hear her again. I felt robbed. A stupid reaction, I know, but there it is.

There are many people in life whom I enjoy seeing. It may sound odd, but whenever certain people interact with me (i.e. my partner, close friends and family), I quietly and internally rejoice that they are here, that I am with them, and that we are privileged enough to have some time together. This is because I know it won't always be this way. I won't always be able to enjoy their presence, their smile, their laugh, their knowledge, their immediate existence.

I wish I could hear Gummy's voice again.

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