Saturday, December 11, 2010

Untimely heals nothing

 I remember while in the third grade hearing about a fifth grade girl dying. I never heard of leukemia before but my teacher told us it was a disease of the blood and that is what the girl died from. The school did a big memorial and we all made cards to send to the family. I did not know the girl but her little sister was in my little sister's grade. When the sister came back to school after being absent for an extended period of time, nobody knew what to say to her, or how to act around her, but after a while it seemed to fade away until we kind of forgot she even had an older sister, but I guarantee she did not. That was my first encounter with untimely death.

For me, as I think with most people, death is usually associated with an elderly person, a person who lived a long and full life and their "time has come". We are still very saddened by the death, a loving grandmother who you remember giving you sweets when you visited, or an uncle who made funny voices and did card tricks. Those are the memories kids have when it comes to death.

When a mother or a father dies, that is disorienting for a child. They do not understand the reasons or comprehend the logistics of the loss. I knew a kid in middle school who's dad had a heart attack and died. He was a funny and likable kid but after his dad died, he was quiet and kept to himself for the rest of the school year. The next year he seemed much better and appeared to be back to his funny self. We never spoke about his father's passing, maybe he wanted me to bring it up or maybe I was waiting for him to start, looking back, I think I was too afraid I would not be able to accept the emotions behind it all, so I never asked him and to this day never really know how he got through it. That was my second encounter with untimely death. 

I remember getting the call in the morning, My boss and also one of my best friends was on the phone informing me that his friend and former business partner was killed in a shady deal gone bad. I was in my twenties at the time and he was the first person that I knew who died that was my age. It was a surreal feeling but one filled with irrational excuses like, "That would never happen to me." or "I would not be in that situation." When going over to the parent's house to pay my respects, the house was full of sorrow, relatives inconsolable and distraught, understanding their sorrow but somehow not connecting with their pain. I think being single and no real relationship with the guy offered me no real grief. That was my first adult encounter with untimely death.

I was dating a girl for a while in my late twenties, she was fun and sexy and we did adventurous things together, but it never got real serious. We continued to be friends after our relationship had ended but when she told me one evening over dinner that she was getting married I did not give her much of a congratulations. I liked her a lot and since I did not have a girlfriend when she told me her good news, I took it upon my self celebrate with some self pity. We did not speak after that for a two weeks, then I finally went over to her house to apologize for my luke warm reaction, she forgave me, and we were friends once again. I remember just getting home from work when I got the call that she and her fiance were driving home the previous night on the highway and slammed into an abandoned car sitting in the right lane. They tried to revive her at the scene but all the efforts by the EMTs were to no avail. This one hit me hard. This was my first emotional connection to someone my age who died. Her best friend was married to one of my best friends so I felt like I was able to share some grief with others. She was catholic so it would be my first wake experience, and seeing the open casket was too much for me. I did manage to make my way up to the front and pay my respects to her family. After enduring the walk through, a bunch of us took a table in the back and told funny stories and we shared our thoughts. It helps to remember the good times, but time passes, you meet new people, new relationships form and old relationships get stored away, only to bubble to the top when thinking about extreme circumstances. I wonder what ever happen to her fiance? 

Now that I am in my mid forties, married and a father of one great soon to be eleven year old, death becomes part hobby part celebrity gawking. You read the papers or browse online and immediately pause at sightings of familiar names. "Honey remember so-in-so from that band you liked, well the drummer died." "I just read on that a kid I knew from science class died, he always wore shoes during gym!" I call this the middle age untimely death. Its the age where upon hearing about a death, doctors visits go up and pizza and hamburgers make way for salads and fruit. Wives notice a few extra notches on the belt and stress the important of your health and if that does not sway you, thinking of your kids always points you in the right direction. A few weeks ago, a guy in my office was having a uneasy morning. The guy had a way about him, he can pester you and get under your skin but you can never be mad at him. He was single and lived with his father for years, a guy very comfortable in his situation, no responsibilities, not a care in the world, but the flip side of that is that he had no one looking out for signs of concern. He did not seem himself all day, quiet and was having trouble relaxing. After complaining about stomach pains, he left work early to rest at home. He never made it. The office got a call from a policeman at Penn Station, stating they have an unconscious person on the concourse and this was the last number on his phone.  We are not sure if he died there, in transit, or at the hospital. He was identified at the hospital by human resources. 

All my friends have kids. The ranges are wide, but mostly between 14 and 3, with a few outliers, one in college and a couple of toddlers. My core group of friends are all 45-47 years old and we have been friends since we were young kids ourselves. One of my friends had his child at a very early age so he has been though all the greatness as well as the angst of fatherhood. Even though she was not around much due to their divorce, his little girl grew up in his stories about her, and since he is a very funny and animated storyteller we all learned a lot about child rearing, school life, friends, fashion, boyfriends, birthday parties, family trips, ridiculous situations, the "dramas", learning to drive, college, career choices, parent fighting, holidays, and the unconditional and absolute love a father has for his child. That is why the phone call I got this morning is the most shocking of all untimely deaths. The police recount it as a single car accident late at night. A tight turn caused the car to swerve and veer off the road and crash through a chain link fence. She was 24.

All throughout the day, death played its memories back to me like old movies, from one person to another, like youtube videos replaying the clips of life, entering on a flash and exiting just as untimely....


Anonymous said...

beautiful piece! dk

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