But while age at death is the whole story for outsiders, it is only half the story for a person's loved ones. One does not miss a loved one less because he or she died at 89. My mind is entirely at peace with my mother's death at 89, nearly all of those years lived in good health, and the last 69 in wedded bliss to my father, who is alive and well. But I do not miss her one whit less because she was 89. Indeed, one might argue that having lived to age 61, I have had that much longer a period of time to get used to having — and very much enjoying — my mother in my life. My mind is deeply grateful; but it also knows that my mother is gone forever.
From my late teens onward, the relationship between my mother and me improved steadily. As the years progressed, I enjoyed her more and, yes, loved her more. Unless either an adult child or a parent has serious psychological issues, I am convinced that what I experienced is quite common. There is an enormous amount of luck — good and bad — in life; and one of the greatest pieces of good luck for a parent (and child, for that matter) is for parents and children to have the time to work things out.
Because I was a good son, I have no guilt to work through. There are many reasons to honor one's parents, and how one will deal with a parent's death is one of the most compelling.
My mother was universally adored — even her pharmacists and hair stylist paid a call during "shiva" — for three reasons, as I learned from everyone to whom I spoke: She was always happy; she treated everyone as if they were the most special person in her life; she carried herself with class and dignity. If you want to be widely loved, there's the recipe.