Or really does anyone get use to or comfortable with death? Maybe a mortician, EMS worker of doctor but at this point in my life I have walked through people I knew and people I knew closely dying. I can remember as early as my sophomore year of High School when prior to going to band camp I went to see my ailing grandfather and was blown away by all of the machines and tubes coming out of him. It scared me more than anything and he actually died while I was at camp and I was not told until camp was over. My parents did not want to interrupt my first year in the marching band. I cannot say that I felt sorrow but always wishing that I did not house the memory of him in the hospital and it was quite difficult for me to remember him in a normal setting.
I also remember this girl that I sat next to in band that I cannot ever remember her conversing with anyone. She appeared solemn and later she committed suicide, I have thought of her often and wondered what demons she was holding inside.
I taught swimming with this guy, Henry Schoonover, who was a bit older but I knew that he wrestled for a rival high school; he was very good and quite popular. I was thrilled to have him as a co-worker and friend. Often between teaching swimming classes we would use the gymnastic mats to go over some wrestling moves. He was a remarkable guy and had earned an appointment to the Naval Academy. I’m not sure when I found out but he ran into some bad karma there injuring his back and getting involved with a woman I a thinking was not good for him or vice versa. Anyway, unable to wrestle and dealing with a family before he was ready he committed suicide. It shocked me but I do not remember it going any farther in my coming to grips with it.
My “Bigmama” grandmother passed away shortly after and what a lady, I spent a lot of time growing up over her house sitting on the porch and talking every afternoon. I cannot remember her ever being angry with me and while I was sad she passed away, it was also a relief because she had been ill for so long. I remember my mom calling me over to the house the morning she died and how I felt when I saw her trying to confirm that she was actually dead.
I thought at the time that I was due a break from people around me dying then the next year my dad was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. I was stunned at first and it took me a long time to process the reality my father dying which put me in a state of denial. He told me he needed me to be strong and we spent many a day talking about life and everything else in between. He was taking this concoction called Bromptons (?) which was a liquid morphine and I believe cocaine mix to ward off the intense pain he was in. I remember the X markings on his body to guide the radiation treatments given to reduce the size of the massive tumor on his lung.
He lasted several months, longer than they gave him and it appeared that he made up his mind to make it to Christmas and New Years. It was a few days after January 1st when I felt he chose to let go and the decline was rapid. I still do not know why I chose to stay over the night he died; I remember talking to a friend saying I do not think he will last a week. I had no idea that he would lose his battle that night, January 8th, 1985 at 2:21 am. I was laying down in front of the fireplace when shortly after my mom called me to his bedside where he took his last breath. I remember the pained look on his face which bothered me and it was then that I finally cried. I also remember the complete silence in the room, having lung cancer is not pretty and the labored breathing still comes to mind whenever I hear a coffee percolator. He was 54 and told me earlier that he was not afraid to die and felt he had lived a long full life….this was a rare moment that I recall my dad was wrong.
Through the years after going to multiple funerals on a regular basis I felt that I had become numb to death. Sure I felt sorrow but not too much because growing older and having older relatives pass away was becoming routine.
I think there is a line in the scripture that states, “Death is Sure”, but I really do not give it much thought. I have become more paranoid or even hypochondriac (ish) thinking that I will develop cancer due to my family’s history. There are times when I have been convinced that cancer is developing inside of me and I am obsessed with cutting it off at the pass. I also have hypertension so I am under a cardiologist’s care as well as several medications. I do wonder at times what will knock me off.
Wes, my friend who passed away last month opened my eyes to a sense of reality. I am still in disbelief that he died and I actually dreamed about him last night and remember crying when I saw him. My mom has always said do not put a human on a pedestal. It was not that Wes was on a pedestal but he was a fitness fanatic, a coach and Physical Education teacher and in my eyes, someone who would live a long time. Wes could do anything, he was strong not just in a physical way but his whole being was strong. Other than my parents I cannot think of anyone who has affected me more; he was a life coach to me.
I guess his passing was a gut checking reality to me; realization confirming that all of our days are numbered and not on our own personal timetable.
This past few weeks after his death has seen me walk gingerly through life; trying to avoid the inevitable like I really can control the time and place. It is constantly on my mind now that I too can drop dead at any time regardless of my fitness level and medications. Walking into the house, into my office, anywhere it is like I am trying to look around the corner for the reaper to appear. My physical steps are gingerly taken and I need to wake out of this.
This is my attempt at accepting the inevitable….I guess by trying to freeze frame every moment, succumbing to the fact that the only thing you can really be sure of is death and yes taxes. My legacy is what I am working now. Maybe writing about it is comforting knowing that those who care about me will have a glimpse of what I feel.
What I need to focus on is living each day like it was my last, leaving nothing undone.