Lately it seems there’s death everywhere. Family, friends, friends and family of friends and family, pets, coworkers, coworkers’ families, celebrities… perhaps it’s just the age we’ve reached, but it feels like nobody is safe anymore. It’s also apropos that this would be the topic of my first real blog post on the heels of April, considering April is a hard month for me.
The first Saturday morning of April, Facebook chose to remind me that four years ago on April 2nd was the last time I heard my father’s voice. The last words I heard him speak were “I love you,” and I’d give anything to hear those words from him one more time. April 2nd was the day I began the three-week journey of watching my father die..
My first real encounter with death came at a very early age. My Aunt Bernice passed away when I was seven years old. I have two very clear memories of her. First, I remember going to her house as a small child with one of my other aunts. She was standing on the porch of her house wearing a blue dress, and I remember thinking she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The only other memory I have of her is from her funeral not long after. She’d been sick and nobody knew it until she died. I went up for the viewing with another of my aunts, and I still remember the confusion, not truly understanding what it meant to look at her in the casket. I was small and it traumatized me.
Three years later, my Uncle Preston passed. His first wife, my Aunt Ida, had passed away some years earlier. I loved that little lady, but I couldn’t have been more than five at the time. Granted I wasn’t much older when he passed, but I was still old enough to understand that death was permanent. I didn’t go to his funeral, but I do remember climbing into my father’s lap and crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. I loved him, and I loved taking trips out to his farm.
The drawback of having a big family is that it means dealing with death a lot. Each of my parents was one of twelve. Most of my father’s family is gone now – aunts, uncles, cousins… and my mother’s family is beginning to dwindle in their twilight years. Not long after my father passed away, my step-daughter asked me to take her to the cemetery. It fascinated her to find that walking through that cemetery is roughly akin to a family reunion. I’m related to almost everyone in that cemetery in some way or another, and there are a lot of people I love there.
When I was sixteen, a friend and classmate was murdered. The official report said it was a self-inflicted gunshot from a game, but those of us who knew him knew better. None of us know the whole story, but we’ve pieced together enough over the years to know it wasn’t an accident. The one thing I do remember from the morning we were told about his death was that immediately after being told the news, Jewel’s “Foolish Games” debuted on MTV. As a teenager I slept with the TV on, and more often than not, MTV was the channel of choice…you know, when they still played music. [Coincidentally, I really miss Headbanger’s Ball.] I still to this day can’t listen to that song without thinking of him.
There have been countless deaths over the years, most of which those of people the world will never know save by the beautiful words written in their obituaries. My father, my grandmother, friends, family members, coworkers… the list is long.
A year and a half ago, one of my best friends in the world was murdered less than fifty feet from where I was standing. Her estranged husband showed up at our office and put four bullets in the back of her head because she said she wanted a divorce. [You can read Angie’s Story here.]
When David Bowie passed away in January, it ruined me. I felt like I’d been gutted over the death of a man I’d never met. My heart broke for the loss the world as a whole suffered. He’s one of my biggest influences and even now, four months later, I have a hard time processing the fact that another of my heroes has left this world. Then there was Merle Haggard – who, by the way, I actually sat down and cried over. And now Prince. Another legend gone. I’ve seen many a discussion in the recent months about why we so publicly mourn the passing of celebrities.
The passing of these celebrities in particular, have shaken the very foundation of music. These are the legends, the ones upon whose shoulders the contemporary styles are built. They’re the trailblazers, the gatekeepers of the magical and mystical. Our heroes. And in some ways, our friends. We know them through their voices and their lyrics. They become part of us. So when they die, we lose a part of ourselves. And we mourn them publicly because we know others are mourning alongside us, because talking about it eases the pain of loss and helps us heal. Because it’s once scenario where we know the other person means it when he says, “I know how you feel.” We mourn because we’re sad and because other people get it.
It doesn’t mean we don’t mourn the less famous. I still grieve for my father every single day, but I don’t talk about it because it’s personal. Because it’s not anyone else’s business. And because the rest of the world generally doesn’t care.
Last month I wrote about a friend taking his own life. That post was my way of making sense of the nonsensical, and of making the point that when it comes to depression, death is not the only answer. It was met with a single comment (which has since been removed due to its inappropriate placement and condescending tone) which essentially scolded me and called me a bully for offering an alternative to death. I don’t like removing comments because I don’t like hindering discussion. However, from the tone of this comment, I quickly realized there would be no rational discussion, but rather a dogpile of attacks. Let me point out that yes, I do understand suicide. Yes, I do understand that suicide and depression are not the same thing. I never implied that they were. Having considered taking my own life at one point in the past, I understand all too well the difference. One is a potential outcome of the other. Death is permanent. It’s the endgame. One and done. You don’t get a second chance if you change your mind at the last minute. There are better ways of handling the hardships of life.
Death is not the only answer. There are alternatives, and as with any important decision, each person has the right to explore EVERY alternative before choosing one so final. The reason may very well be selfish, too. I’m tired of grieving. I don’t want anyone else to die. I don’t want to lose another friend or family member or pet or person who makes my life better just by being in it. We’ve seen more than our fair share of tragedy these last few months, and I’m ready for a change.