My best friend just turned 66 and her father is dying - at 92. Her mother is still alive but in a nursing home and mentally absent - "demented" (an awful word).
Her father was diagnosed with cancer just a couple of weeks ago and my friend thought he might have a few months. In the past couple of days, it's become clear he only has days to go. He's a Quaker and is at peace with the idea of dying. My friend is flying tomorrow to be with him but is not sure if he'll still be alive by the time she gets there.
"Next time we speak", she told me, "I'll have joined you in the ranks of the adult fatherless."
I think she's been acutely aware of her unusual position as a woman in her 60s whose parents are both still alive. So many of her friends, including me, have been through the deaths of parents as she looked on. She's had so much time to prepare for this, I almost feel that for her it's become something of a rite of passage - she'll finally be fully grown up.
But she's very close to her father and although she's had more time than many people to prepare for the idea of losing him (after all, he's 92), she's finding it strange and difficult. It is strange. "You'll only go through this once", I said. "It's something you've never experienced before and can only experience once".
Coincidentally, this week is the anniversary of my father's death. Sometimes it seems like ages since he was alive - at other times, I feel like if I saw him tomorrow, it wouldn't be at all unusual. I can still hear the echo of his voice in my mind, whereas I've lost the sense of what my mother sounded like (she died many years ago).
In the last years of my father's life, I came to terms with him. I'd feared and loathed him at various points in my life, but both of those feelings fell away as he grew old and sick. Not that I had a complete reversal of feeling - far from it. I just became reconciled to the situation we were in, the relationship we had. Since his death, I sometimes feel sorry for myself, that there's no father to lean on or to resent for not being leanable upon. The way I was parented is a closed book now - there's no going back and making things any different. I have to make my own way in the world, unencumbered by anything he might say or do or that I might think he might feel about me (or that I might feel he would think about me).