Chicago Tribune Commentary Elizabeth Conant: Lin Brehmer reminded me that it’s great to be alive – and a life well-lived is a triumph

Photo credit: E. Jason Wambsgans


The past few months have been hard on me and my peers. Our world is changing.

We’ve begun to lose iconic people who’ve always seemed to exist as permanent landmarks in our lives and culture, such as WXRT-FM 93.1 host Lin Brehmer. It’s easy to forget that these people are human and that they’re aging too.

I’m at the doorstep of 60, and in the past year or two, I’ve become acutely aware that this is an age at which maladies appear more frequently and morbid diagnoses begin to arrive. Even in my early and mid-50s, I retained that feeling of “everyone but me” regarding aging and disease — an attitude that prevails among the young and early middle-agers. It’s the sense that one has not arrived yet, that age and its concerns are still far off.

In our modern world, we are very keen on extending life, and we have come to expect longevity. It’s easy to forget that just a generation or two ago, if you made it to 60, that was an acceptable outcome. If you died in your 70s, it wasn’t considered a breach of cosmic justice. It was simply your time. Your glorious turn on the planet in corporeal form was up.

But these days, we fight as hard as we can to survive into years of frailty — and then we consider it a victory. I disagree.

I assert that a life well-lived is a victory, no matter what age it finds completion. It may be heart-wrenching to see someone depart, and it might not seem fair, but a life fully expressed is not a failure or a tragedy. Rather, it is a good outcome.

Last year, I went back to my hometown of Chicago for a visit. It was a thrilling week for me, densely packed with reunions. There was music and food, and there were all those streets and neighborhoods that I knew so well, the sight of which made me profoundly happy. WXRT provided the soundtrack.

The DJs’ voices on WXRT were as familiar and comforting to me as those of old friends. After all, these on-air personalities had been with me for years. It felt as if no time had passed since I’d moved away, more than a decade ago. Lin accompanied me as I drove through the city. I can’t hope to describe how full this made my heart. The sound of his voice made me feel loved; it restored my spirit. It made me feel like I really had returned home. I experienced a moment of true bliss that day.

Lin died on Sunday.

I knew he’d left the air in the summer, but I’d also heard that he had returned this past fall. Somehow, I just figured he’d beat the cancer, and he was back; all was as it should be. The news of his death was shocking to me. Understandable but still shocking. And as I began to think more critically about it, I realized that my generation was at the beginning of its downslope.

It’s begun. The time of goodbyes.

Death is nothing new, and our grief is not exceptional. But what does make the experience far different at this time in history is that we are all experiencing these losses in real time and on a global scale because of the internet. For us, there is no softening of the message through the buffer of time. Maybe it’s a good thing because it is certainly cathartic to be able to share with people all around the world our grief and our memories. I’d even say it’s a kind of privilege. But it’s certainly a new one.

For the most part, a death after 60 productive years on the planet is not a tragedy. It’s a sorrow that will subside as time passes. And as we in the 50-plus segment of the population can easily attest, time passes much more quickly as one ages.

Ten years ago feels like the year before last. Last year feels like just last week. Our end dates are fast approaching. But let us not be made too weary by this; all of us have done the best we can, and we will continue to enjoy the ride as best we’re able. Let’s thank our missing comrades for all they added to our lives, let’s smile at the memories and let’s let them go with a wave and a kiss.

Thank you, Lin, for reminding us that it really is great to be alive.

Elizabeth Conant is a musician and writer originally from Chicago and now living in Saratoga Springs, New York. She played keyboards for more than a decade in the Chicago-based indie pop band the Aluminum Group. She blogs at TheHillhouseinGreenfield.com.


This is a commentary published on January 24th, 2023, in the Chicago Tribune.

It is an edited version of the original post entitled “Liz’s Bin”.

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