Death of a Year (Part 1 of 2)

Catchy title, eh? 😉

But in all seriousness, I’ve had to deal with a death in the family this week. One of my wife’s aunts passed a few days back and today is her funeral. Death and I aren’t strangers, by any means. And given my background, past, and natural degree of curiosity about such things, I’ve been exposed to it on a regular basis for quite some time. My first up-close encounter with it came when I was just a boy and delivering papers along my route one morning. As I came down the street, I found the body of one of my customers laying on a lawn with a knife literally jutting out of his chest. According to the police, he must have surprised a burglar and they’d simply killed him and dumped his body across the street from his house. It was a jarring, abrupt wake-up call for a young boy who up until that point had only seen death as played out in the pages of comic books or in TV or films. It had a lasting impression on my life.

I was fortunate that early morning that my older sister was with me. Three years my senior, Cheryl and I nevertheless stood there, unsure of what we should do next. It was extremely early and no one else seemed to be awake. Then we heard the sound of metal on metal from somewhere down the street. I could just make out another of my customers outside working on his truck. Cheryl and I ran down yelling for him to come and help us. Breathless, we explained the situation and while he seemed incredulous, he finally relented and followed us back to the dead body. When we arrived, he stood there for a moment, staring at the corpse.

Then, without saying a single word, he simply turned around and walked back to his house as if he had seen nothing.

Death wasn’t the only thing I got exposed to that day.

Cowardice was the other.

Within the space of perhaps thirty minutes, I realized several things. The first was that death is never far. It can come at any time, from any direction, from any source – even when the morning sun spills peacefully across a fresh dewy dawn and all the world seems alive. The second was that most people live in fear and they allow that fear to rule their lives utterly and completely – even when they claim to do exactly the opposite. They live in fear of not doing what society suggests they ought to do; they live in fear of offending others (even when others routinely walk all over them); they live in fear of being seen as an upstart or someone who doesn’t go with the flow; they live in fear of failing if they try something new. They live in fear of death and as a result, they live in fear of life.

Ten years ago, my wife’s aunt suffered a mild heart attack. It was about as mild as you can get with a myocardial infarction. But instead of using that event to propel her on to make changes in her life, or live with more zeal, my wife’s aunt used it as an excuse to give up utterly and completely. Since that time, she chose to lay in bed at her home, insisting she need 24-hour care. She lay in that bed for ten years doing absolutely nothing except collecting bed sores and bed pans. She simply started rotting away. She had ten years of life and she wasted them. How many terminally ill people would hope they had such time? How much living could someone who appreciated life pack into that decade?

Death is with us every day and in every manifestation. How many people do you know who have let their dreams die because they reached a certain age and thought, “well, I’m supposed to have a regular job, a house, two kids, and an ulcer by now”? How many people do you know who let their love of life die because they have become cheap, miserly souls who can only talk about how much money they save or how many coupons they cut or how little they spend on Christmas presents? How many people do you know whose souls die a little more each day because they lack the courage to try to attain something more than “good enough?” Mediocrity, excuses, cowardice, a lack of accountability, negativity, and an inability to be honest are all aspects of death that we see every day and in many of the very people we surround ourselves with.

So the question is: which person are you? Are you already dying inside? Have you given up? Have you settled? Have you forgotten how to live? Have you forgotten that money is just that, and that clinging to it like a life preserver only deprives you of enjoying life or seeing the joy on someone else’s face when you deliver a great gift unto them? Have you forgotten the family you once swore unyielding loyalty to? Have you forgotten those who have always had your back, helped you, or supported you when things were tough? Have you forgotten yourself – your true self – because now you have a mate and their identity has overcome your own? Have you shed dreams? Have you wrapped yourself in a cloak of negativity and cynicism, forever cutting down new ideas and innovation? Have you cast aspersions on those who continue to live? Do you derive humor and pleasure from spotlighting the misery of others?

We’ll talk some more tomorrow…and don’t worry, things get more pleasant from here! 🙂

Side note: The Madagascar Matter, a new serialized Lawson Vampire adventure, debuts in the first week of the new year and delivers a chapter each week over the course of 2010. It’s by subscription only, however, which means you’ll have to sign up in order to travel back in time with Lawson and his former mentor Zero to the early 1980s in Africa. You can do so by clicking the order form below:

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  • Gary McArthur December 31, 2009  

    You have just described my life over the past couple of years. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in March 2008 and negativity crept in – I say crept in – I welcomed it with open arms for some reason. I lost 190 days work to sickness. I cancelled family outings to sickness. I watched as my daughter played and felt no inclination to join in. My guts ruled my life and symptoms persisted because I allowed them to. A further investigation revealed the Crohn’s disease to have totally healed, yet my body displayed violent symptoms because of the state of mind I’d perpetuated. It wasn’t until November of this year that I finally saw the light. This post just about sums up my past two years of negativity – 2010 WILL be different. I have plans and you have just cemented them for me. Thank you.

  • lesley mcarthur December 31, 2009  

    Just read your brilliant post which provoked some very powerful feelings that I harbour in my heart concerning death and it’s many faces.My father died in 1978 whilst working abroad in Africa from a heart attack in his sleep, and from that moment in time my life changed forever. I hear you say”anybody’s life would change after the death of a parent” but my life changed in ways that it should not have done.My mother was only 44 at the time and I am their only child,she instantly changed into a person I did not recognise and I know grief can manifest itself in lots of ways but she has remained the same since.
    The family banned me from the funeral as they thought I should not see her in her hysterical grief and I only caught a glimpse of his casket as he pulled away from the front of the house.I did not view his body as it was a closed coffin as it had travelled a long way from the Congo in Africa and as the coroner stated,”in no fit state for family sittings”.This has caused me some anxiety issues which I am currently being treated for,as I have not had any closure on his death and miss him more now than I did when it happened.Getting back to your post and the thought provoking issue it raises about our prespective on life I wholeheartely agree with you that death does destroy dreams and people can live in fear of it as that is what I am doing now.
    Because of my fear of death and of watching my mother’s life crumble and disintegrate after the death of her husband I constantly live with the gut wrenching fear of losing my husband.He drives a lot with his job and I die a thousand deaths whilst he is on the road terrified that some hideous accident will take him from me and our 6 year old daughter.People in my own social circle and at work have said”whatever will be,will be”but my loopy mind will not or refuses to accept this.He has hands free in the car and I ring him which I know I shouldn’t as the terror is too great to keep inside ,the fear of the grim reaper is forever near.
    My mothers love for me since has been good but smothering,over the top and she has made me the centre of her world which has driven me to distraction and to the edge of my sanity,I love her deeply but his death was like bomb going off and it ripped my world apart.I always thought as a child that other chidren’s fathers died not mine,and when the black cross was painted on my front door I was given a massive wake up call.Yes death does come silently sometimes,it doesn’t always come in a fanfare,it doesn’t look like the movies when the death scene at the end is moving and poignant,it can be ugly and full of malice,like a book I read once said “beware of beautiful days as bad things can happen on beautiful days.your guard drops and you stop being careful”.The day my father left me forever dawned bright and sunny and it was in the month of June.

  • jonfmerz January 4, 2010  

    Gary & Lesley – thanks so much for sharing your experiences here. I’m glad what I wrote resonated with you both! Be well & have a fantastic 2010!

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