Monday, June 19, 2006
Dealing With Death
Later as an alter boy I hated serving for funeral Masses and the graveside service afterwards. Coffins along with sad, crying people did not appeal to my adolescent psyche.
In my sophomore year in high school, one of my best friends, Rusty, died in a car wreck along with another student. I decided that dying in a car wreck was one of the most useless ways to die. I also became a nervous passenger. This was also the first death to have a strong emotional impact upon me. When I first found out I just sat down in a chair and felt kind of numb and alone for 2 or 3 hours. I had known Rusty since the age of 4. We played basketball together, visited each other's houses, etc. Now nothing.
Both my grandmothers died during my teen years. I was saddened by their deaths. Mostly because of the sadness of my parents. We lived two days drive from one grandmother and a one day drive from the other. I rarely saw them more than once or twice a year. The emotional connection was not strong.
Twenty years later, when my grandfather died at the age of 86, I felt quite different. My grandfather had led a full life. His marriage to his second wife had lasted over 20 years. He had always been a jovial man. Quick with a joke and a smile. My mother and one of her sisters were each holding his hands when he died. The wake after his funeral was more like a celebration of life. Of course, the fact that virtually everyone in my mother's family is German and/or Irish didn't hurt.
Less than a year later my brother died from AIDS. Watching him and my parents suffer the last days his life is the most heart wrenching time I've been through. It was then that I more fully understood this Zen story on prosperity.
During the early 1990's I worked as Social Service Director in a nursing home. There I became more accustomed to the inevitability of death.
Since my brother died about 20 years ago, I had not lost someone emotionally close to myself until this past weekend when my father died. Although the sadness is greater because of the close emotional attachment, I feel much like I did when my grandfather died.
My father lived a full life of 83 years. He rose from being the youngest son of a factory worker in Hamilton, Ohio to a university professor. He had a wife and six children who lived him for the man he was and, sometimes, despite the man he was. When he died he left the world a little better place. In my mind that's about all one can ask for in life.
There are no words that can spare one the grief of losing someone close, but we attempt to offer them anyway. I remember a month or so after my first wife passed away and one of my fellow church members asked "How are you doing?" and I was floored. "Not good!" I responded and fled with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. That scene stays with me lo these 10 years later and I'm still amazed at the level of grief I had, though as a counselor I probably shouldn't be.
It is quite obvious that in your case, you have done your father proud and his influence on you is equally obvious. Long may your line prosper my friend.
My brother's death, at age 33, was very difficult to get over. It took at least a year although I'm not sure your ever complete the "same" after such an event. You just learn to adjust and cope better. I had always imagined him and I as old men, sitting around talking and reminiscing. But now it will never happen.
Thank you again for your comments. I'm sure you've done your family proud as well.
Like GM, I am a bit late--but just wanted to say how sorry I am about your father. My dad died in 2001--in his sixties-- which has always left me feeling very sad as he never retired from his job as a mathmetician and had looked forward to doing that. I am glad your dad lived a long life and that you got to spend so many years with him.
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