Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Great Irony of Death


Yesterday I noted the tragic deaths of two people, one whom I hardly knew, the other I knew not at all.
I characterize these two deaths as tragic due to the nature of their demise.  While death is as natural as life, it is the timing of it that often exacts the most extreme cruelties.

The first death I noted was of an 88-year old woman.  I found her obituary in my local home town paper.  Her name struck me so remotely that at first I didn't recognize the name, or the very mild association I had once had with her in my youth.  Only in reading of the family survivors did I realize that she was the mother of a high school pal of mine.  My memories dim a bit these days but I feel safe in venturing that the only contact I had with this lady would have been a cautionary warning to be home on time or some such thing to her son, as we departed for a school dance, and most likely given behind a screen door as we departed.

The tragedy I note in the old woman's death was the deadly words emitted from the obit; "died after a long bout of Alzheimer's dementia".  Whenever I hear that I do a bit of "God critique", wondering why in hell our creator should allow the empty husk of body to live on long after the mind has fled.  It is perhaps the most cruel of deaths as the loved ones must endure years of misery in witnessing the living death of a loved one.

The second death was as equally tragic; a young woman just 33 years old, happily married for a mere four years, delighting in her young child, and in the prime of her life.  The death notice came via a Face Book posting by one of my friends and family.  I immediately mourned the death of one so young, one who had so much to live for.  My immediate thoughts were that perhaps she was one of those unfortunates who die young from breast or ovarian cancer and my sorrow was even more pronounced. Like a stalker I went to the young lady's Face Book page and read condolence after condolence posted on her wall.  My heart ached a bit as I read the last few postings the young lady had made just days and weeks before her passing.  I thought of how cruel that she would be writing of joyful things, not knowing that she had only days to live.

Still not satisfied, still needing to know the cruelty of death brought on this youngster, brought to her family, I googled her name and came across a couple of accident reports describing the event that led to her death.  According to the reports, she was driving down a rural road the other night at 10pm.  Accident investigators surmised that she had drifted a bit to the side of the road, caught a bit of rough edging, tried to overcompensate for the drift by turning sharply to the left, which caused the SUV to roll over.  Toxicologists ruled out drugs or alcohol in her system.   Then the deathly words; "she was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car".  And I was angry at her as I am every time I hear of a highway death where seat belts were not in use.  I have rolled a car in an accident, was wearing seat belts and survived with very little injury so I'm a big advocate for seat belts; get angry whenever I see their use ignored.  And always wonder why anyone would drive a car without them.

So, I was a bit perturbed, even judgmental, when it was not my position to be critical.  I felt especially ashamed that the young lady might have paid the ultimate price for this safety oversight.  Or perhaps not.  I guess I was hurting because I had seen the photos of her with loving friends and family, saw the joy of youth in her smiling face as she looked into a camera lens on a day at the beach just a few years ago.  I was devastated for the loss of someone I didn't even know as I read the worshipful Face Book posts of playtime with her little boy.  And I ached in sympathy for the the husband, the lover, the "best friend" who would now need to go on alone, raising a young boy, and trying to explain why mommy is never coming home again.  So I cried for her, cried for him and mourned the passing of one who had so much more to give.

Death can sometimes be kind.  The reaper may come and ferry you away in the middle of a deep and restful sleep.  He may wait until one has said all the "I love you's" that need be said.  He may come when you have lived a full and complete and satisfying life in the autumn of your years....or he may come with a cruelty that leaves heartbreak and sorrow all around.  In these two deaths I mourn the poor timing; one death came far too late...and one came far too early.

God Bless those left behind.  Give them the strength to deal with death's aftermath.  And give them peace when there is so little understanding of death's cruel ironies.  Most of all, help us to comprehend that all that happens here on earth cannot always be explained to us...that we might have faith that the world is turning as it should.


A Colonel of Truth said...

Google 'Death Speaks' - best short story ever written. Chilling.

A Modest Scribler said...

Colonel, if you're referring to the "one paragraph short story by Jeffrey Archer, I have read it and you're is chilling.

Ken said...

I just followed Google to your short story, very, very good!
My wife's Grandmother died of Alzheimer's. It was my first exposure to dementia at that level. This one had it's humorous side. When I first met her she was well along into her disease. It caused my Mother in Law and my wife a great deal of pain to watch as it took her so slowly. My wife introduced us the first time we met and she whispered to my wife that she was so happy that she lived long enough to see her granddaughter find her "Knight in Shining Armor"! We made our preparations and got married over the next several months. She was able to attend our wedding making my wife very happy. Time goes on, we went to Seattle to visit my In Laws and Grandma. The whole family went to visit Grandma in the Care Facility she was in. It was very sad for all of them as she didn't recognize any of them anymore. I mean not at all. They were all brought to tears, then I entered the room. Her eyes lit up, for at long last she was seeing someone she knew, completely recognized and as if it had been years since seeing one another. She called out to me by name and asked,"Ken,how is my Candy's Knight in Shining Armor?" Now I had only met her once before and for just a couple minutes at our wedding, the rest of them knew her their whole lives. This was just weird to me, but the best part of it all was how angry my Mother in Law became. I will never forget that. My first riff with, Mom! I probably shouldn't be laughing at that, but, oh well it just grabbed me and always has. She just got so mad at the both of us...

A Modest Scribler said...

Wonderful story Ken. It is strange what they remember and what they forget. You must have felt like a superstar in that room!