On Death and Dying

It’s a really sad day here.  Jim’s friend Calvin died yesterday morning from metastatic prostate cancer at the age of 49.  But it’s not just Calvin’s passing that makes today sad.  My sister’s friend Jual was diagnosed just last week with breast cancer.  She’s 29 years old, has two children under the age of 3, and she has a new baby on the way.  And it’s not just Jual and Calvin that make today sad.

Every time death touches you in some way, it seems that a scab opens back up and the pain of the deaths that you thought you had already dealt with comes back.  In just over a month, the second anniversary of my dad’s death will be upon me.  Just over a month ago, the fourth anniversary of my sister’s death was crashing down on me.  And not long before that anniversary was the 5th anniversary of Jim’s father’s death.  We seem to be experiencing an epidemic.

I think Calvin’s passing and Jual’s diagnosis are especially hard to deal with.  Calvin has a daughter just 2 years older than our oldest daughter.  She was just about to face her final exams in her first year of college.  It gives me such a terrible pain in my chest to think of her struggling to get through making up these exams; continuing to focus on her education and the whole life she has ahead of her; receiving the diploma that would have made her father so proud; walking down the aisle to meet the man of her dreams, but not on the arms of her dad.  I would hate for my daughters to know what that feels like, and it’s just so sad that any little girl has to go through these things without her dad.  And Jual – well, how do you not find the universe crashing in on you when you think of such a YOUNG girl, with BABIES to raise facing her own mortality?   When you are 29 years old, you should be thinking of play groups, baking cookies, and Barney songs.  It’s too much to have to worry about that stuff while thinking about the fact that you could die and leave these babies to be raised without a mom.

When Bean died, I made the statement to someone that I was glad I went to Church regularly.  I felt some comfort in my Parish community, and I had a belief that she really was going to a better place.  It didn’t make the pain of losing my little sister easier, but at least I didn’t feel like she was worse off than she had been in life.  Then my dad died.  No one was a more devout Catholic than my dad, yet in spite of all the prayers, all the Masses, all the sips of wine and gulps of communion wafers, he died a slow, painful, agonizing death that started 10 years before his body finally stopped.  I haven’t been to Church much since my dad died.  It didn’t save him, and I just can’t feel like it does much for me since he’s gone.

And it doesn’t matter how much time you have to prepare for this stuff.  Bean’s death was sudden.  I left her here at 10 AM and by the time I was back at 11, she was gone.  My dad died a little piece at a time for a long time.  When Bean died, people said stuff like, “Ah, but she went quickly and didn’t have to suffer.”   The same people offered these words of comfort when my dad died, “Ah, but at least everyone had a chance to say goodbye and say the things you wanted to say.”   Hmmmm.  Funny, but there doesn’t seem to be much comfort in either of these polarized statements.

As my dad used to say after my Grandfather died, I’m half an orphan.  And now Allison is half an orphan.  And she’s too young to know what that feels like.  I thought I was too young at 40.  And on this very sad day, I pray that Jual’s children are very, very old when they know what it feels like to be half an orphan.