Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Death

The end of 2009 brought three deaths into my world and each of them affected me in unique ways.

First was the death of the father of one of my elementary through high school best friends. Christy and I became good friends when we were in 5th grade and continued until I went away to college. Although we are not as close now, we are still in touch and when her dad was diagnosed with cancer I was saddened to hear the news. I am friends with Christy, her mom, and her half sister on Facebook so I was able to keep up with news about Len through the past year and a half. Things took a very bad turn for the worse this fall and it seemed imminent that his death was near. He died a few weeks before Thanksgiving and Ange and Heather and I went to the calling to support Christy and her family. After chatting with her for a bit we walked around to look at the picture memorials they had put together around the mortuary. At the first picture I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming sense of sadness. Of course it was sad that a friend's father had died but at that moment I was reminded of how close in age her father and my father are. When you are a kid much of your "hanging out" with friends revolves around being at home with someone's parents and depending on them to get you where you need to go since you can't drive. I have lots of memories of Christy's dad and find a lot of similarities between them. His death made me realized that I've entered the point in my life where I have to start worrying about the health of my parents and other older family members and that is not something I am prepared to deal with. Her dad's death affected me much more than I expected and I very nearly lost it when I looked at that first mural of pictures. Luckily I was able to pull it together and not be a total wreck mess, but it was something that stuck with me for quite some time.

In early December my "grandfather" died. I use quotes because although technically/biologically he was my mother's father which makes him my grandfather, I did not have a grandfatherly relationship with him. I'd probably only seen him a handful of times in the last 20+ years and the last time I saw him (several years ago) he called me by my cousin's name the entire time. When I got the news he died the only feeling I had was one of apathy, which I thought was interesting. I literally didn't feel anything. Not happy, not sad, not mad, not anything. How do you grieve for someone you have no relationship with or no attachment to? I felt like I should feel something, but honestly, I didn't. It was like reading a news story of a stranger's death. And to make it even stranger, the night that he died I had a very creepy dream about him that woke me up with a start. I looked at the clock (4 am) and thought to myself "If he died tonight I am going to be so freaked out" and went back to bed. The next morning when my mom called I nearly passed out when she said he had died in the middle of the night. I am NOT into supernatural/other worldly things, so I still don't know what to think of it, but I've tried not to dwell on it because it gives me the hee-bee-jee-bees.

Finally, whilst I was gone to Africa for two weeks my 17-year old cousin died in his sleep. This was the most disturbing to me of all of the deaths. First of all, the entire situation was terrible. Dominic was a completely healthy teenage boy and his death came as a very unexpected shock. He died peacefully in his sleep and 3 weeks later they still don't have any idea why he died. Of all of the people who died, I felt closest to his death, because although we were not close, I have spent some time with him, and more importantly my aunt. We were Facebook friends and I was more peripherally involved in his life than the other two. On top of the death itself, the manner in which I found out created a very strange situation I've never had to deal with.

We have a generally unspoken rule that when I am traveling outside of the country and fairly inaccessible, all bad news should be held until my return. We figure, why make me worry when there is nothing I can do about it? I had called my mom to let her know we arrived safe and sound and apparently about a half an hour later is when she received the call about my cousin. She debated calling me back but didn't want this news to worry me while I was in Africa. Now, here comes the strange part. Normally when I am in Africa I don't have much (if any) access to technology. However, Dr. Nagengast (the man who I was assisting on the Africa trip) is on sabbatical this semester and is spending the semester teaching at The University of The Gambia and therefore needed to find a place to live for 6 months. Also his wife and son are coming to live with him for the semester so it needed to be a fairly decent place. The apartment turned out to be very nice and included wireless internet. He had brought his laptop along and asked me to set up his network since he is not very technologically savvy. I said no problem but we were pretty busy for the first few days and didn't think much about it.

Finally we had an afternoon off and Ange fell asleep on the couch so I decided to set up the computer and once I had it all up and running I was cruising around the net and checking email and Facebook. When I opened up Facebook and was browsing my updates I saw one from my aunt that said she was proud of her daughter for going back to school knowing that so many would be grieving her brother. I literally could not comprehend what the hell she was talking about and it never crossed my mind that my cousin would actually be dead. I clicked on my aunt's page and started scrolling down through all of the sympathy posts and comments from everyone until I got to the status update from my aunt announcing that my cousin had died in his sleep on December 31st. I don't think I have ever literally been in such stunned shock before. For about 10 minutes I sat staring at the page just trying to wrap my mind around this new fact. I started scrolling through the comments and other posts on her page as it sunk in that this terrible news was very real. I called my mom just to see what in the hell was going on and she confirmed that yes it was true and she didn't think that I would have internet access and was going to tell me when I got home (as mentioned above about our unspoken rule). After I got off the phone I just broke down crying. I was so shocked and saddened and I just felt so helpless being so far away from my family. Ange woke up and of course was like "What the hell?" and we spent the rest of the evening in the apartment because I didn't have the energy to go hang out with the students for dinner.

The news of his death stuck with me the entire trip. Because I now had internet access I was able to follow the news from home (almost obsessively) and at the same time that it made me feel connected to home it also reminded me of how far removed from everything I was. It was probably one of the most difficult things I've had to face...knowing that my family was gathering half way around the world and I was in lala land trying to go on with my day to day activities while still having this immense news weighing in the back of my head the entire time.

I realized how technology had impacted my life in so many ways. Without Facebook I would have never known this information but I also wouldn't have been able to go through the grieving process semi-connected to my family. The whole thing was very surreal and I'm still processing it all.

2009 ended on a very sad note, and though these three deaths allowed me to grow and reflect on my life I hope that 2010 will be better and less filled with sadness. RIP Len Cressman, Dale Gatlin, and Dominic Riolo.

1 comment:

Becky said...

I'm so sorry for your losses Lins. I hope too that your 2010 is grand. Peace, Love, & Joy always friend.