A heart can beat hundreds, thousands, millions of beats - but when it stops - when it cannot be revived, Death enters.
I am no stranger to Death. We met when I was a grade schooler; my great grandmother , a sweet little lady I recall visiting in her high rise assisted living building, died. To be honest, I felt nothing - for her loss that is. I did not see her enough to feel a bond, and was not old or mature enough to imbue any false feelings of familiar grief over her loss. I do recall crying because I saw my mother cry - something that always makes me cry - but not over the loss of great gramma. ( I also remember my cousin David doing his damnedest to drink all the coffee in the urn - I think maybe we were in third grade. To say he was wired on caffeine and sugar would be abashedly understated. )
I met Death again , when at the age of 16 my grandmother, often sick and pain crippled by arthritis, passed away. I did cry, it hurt like hell. She, along with my Papa, looked after my sister and me after school; we stayed at their house on alternating weekends; they were our neighbors, and I was at her house just about every day. Everything I did not feel as a younger child crushed in upon me at 16, and I hurt for my Dad, and my sister , but I was selfish and hurt for myself too.
Death visited through the years - my Grandfather a few months after I married, my other grandmother after a very protracted and brutal spiral in health. I mourned, yes, but I did not hurt. I had let death hurt me once - I fought it every time Death returned.
One night, several years ago, I had Chili for dinner and played cards with a coworker and my best friend. Three weeks later the coworker committed suicide with a pistol. I was not close to him - our friendship was new - and I was able to observe the customs of the dead with the detached point of view of a spectator at a play. I did feel awful for his children, but felt nothing for his spouse. Odd.
But within a year and a half, the other party to our card game, my best friend, was also met by Death. It hurt more than ever. I could not function. I remember thinking that I wish it we me gone, and him a chance to return. I went to his grave almost nightly for weeks. I sat in the dark some mornings before work and talked to the mending sod they had placed over his casket. I drank too much. I escaped reality when possible with under the counter pills. I was shaken out of my depression by the birth of our second son, who shares the name of my best friend. And to be gut wrenchingly honest - I swear there is some of him in my son. They possess the same shrewed penny pinching trait; the wry sense of humor , the quick temper, and a smile that will outshine any in the room.
Let us walk away from Death a moment, and look at death. Some folks manage death; others wallow in it. I admire the hell out of the calm approach and manner in which my father handles death. After the death of my best friend, I have managed to remain stoic when faced with all that have followed. My wife lost grandparents, I lost my grandfather, My wife's sister - I hurt for everyone - but I felt that something inside of me was broken - because death - and Death - had lost it's grip on me. I could , and do feel, but I cannot "break" , I internalize, and just let it fester and infect until it slowly dissipates.
Lately, when Death strikes, I find myself more angry more than mournful - when a schoolmate lost a battle to cancer I was so mad, so angry, so royally pissed off at the world, that I could not mourn until days later. I hurt - but I was so damn angry. There is no fairness; there is no equilibrium. Death it seems hunts as randomly as a swallow poaching mayflies - it just swoops in, makes a kill, and moves on.
And so now another classmate is being lain out for the final viewing, and tomorrow will be eternally laid to rest. There is no rhyme nor reason - just Death paying another call; eternity it seems is just on the other side of a heartbeat.
I have said a few things in the past days I would like to flesh out. One was that the most amazing ability of the human spirit is the ability to both hang on and let go at the same time - Friends and relatives are referred to as "survivors" because we live on to both carry memories and to forge ahead. Today I added the observation that the dead feel no pain; rather it is the living who are the sufferers.
Think about that. The dead, those touched by Death - they have no pain. It is over - the pain is in the hearts of those that they leave. The living must find a way to move on, to find a new shoulder to cry on, a new buddy to fish with, a new source of inspiration and love. It is not the dead who turn and talk to a loved one recently departed, forgetting for just a second that they are not there, like they always have been - it is the living who live with their ghosts and shimmering memories. It is not the dead that lay in bed, crying, remembering the forgotten apologies, the lost time due to arguments, the good times shared or the envy never revealed - the dead feel none of those - it is the living that suffer with the results of the life left finished when Death made it's call.
Something else that fascinates me about Death , or rather death - is that we do not value all Life the same. What is Death but the ending of life - and is not life , Life itself - the very most amazing and important thing to cherish? So why do some get mourned with long wakes and hundreds of following crying devotees - and no one mourns the homeless? Why is it right to decry the death of one fighting for your country - and rare to see someone who respects the lost life of the enemy? Is not all life worth at least the equanimity of being life?
I do not find solace in Scripture, be it Christian, nor from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Rather I just like to think that each person serves his purpose - and no more. There is a reason some live to ninety seven - and for some cosmic reason there is a reason some do not make it past five. It is, in the scope of the universe - the mystical balance - the balance of life - and death - of Life and Death.
Oddly enough, if there is any text I find calming in death, it is sadly the one which I have applied in the past few days to the most recent loss to Death - the winding story of The Dark Tower, by Stephen King. In it The Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead - pursues a lifelong obsession - only to find in the end that upon reaching his goal he has but to start over exactly where he began before. In one scene Jake, a boy from New York and another Dimension - tell him ' Go Then! - There are other worlds than these!".
I'd like to believe that - more than I can conceptualize a Heaven and a Hell, I can almost feel that other world-ness- the other worlds than these. Worlds where addictions are cured, and worlds where all are addicted. Worlds where love is as foreign a concept as microanalytic policy making, and a world where all that one is is a floating orb of energy, glowing with love and life and flashing bright like fireflies. Worlds where one day , I can walk up to a familiar looking guy with black framed glasses, introduce myself , and he drops me a wink and asks me do I remember the address of that house where the two girls we dated lived? And I'll tell him 802 South Mason Street, and he will laugh, turn and walk away - into another world - - because Go Then! There are other worlds than these..
I am realistic - I know there will come a day when I will have to bury my parents - or a child. I know that the odds are half and half that I will have to live a life without my Sweetums beside me. Death comes. And then there is always the cosmic roulette wheel that within a week from now, maybe some fate finds Death upon me, and my parents and children have to say goodbye to me.
There is nothing I can think if that will stop Death. Nothing that will buy or bargain or purchase an single extra second. If there is a God and life is his plan then he will take you when he wants you. If not and it is all the fickle finger of fate, then fate will be.
Think - every person who reads this - ONE person will outlive all the others. One and one alone - because Death comes, and when that hundredth, that thousandth, that millionth heatbeat strikes and the stills - Death is there.
To the family of Scott E. Dawson, I offer my deepest and honest condolences. I cannot fathom your pain - I have not lost a child , nor a sibling - though I have watched my wife and her family deal with it. I offer you peace if you will have it, and any aide you may call upon me for that I can meet.