Monday, July 28, 2008

A Time To Be Born And A Time To Die

-Ecclesiastes 3:2

Dying has been on my mind quite a bit these last thirty-four days. That is because the angel of death has made visits to people I know and, for several days, was in a holding pattern about 10,000 feet above my own house. As you know my next door neighbor's son died on Father's Day. What I have not written about is the two other deaths that have occurred since then. Within a week of each other my husband's cousin and another neighbor of ours died. Both were young, my husband's cousin fifty-one years old and my neighbor thirty-nine.

Four years ago my husband's cousin developed some sort of infection in his spinal cord and almost die. He did not die at that time but he was left a quadriplegic. One morning last month his wife went into his bedroom to wake him and found him dead. A week before this he had let it be know that he no longer wanted to live and from that moment his will to do so evaporated. The neighbor was killed on his way home from another town at 2:00 AM in the morning. He became distracted and let his truck wander toward the edge of the road and over-corrected. This caused the truck to roll several times and, since he was not wearing a seat belt, he was thrown from the vehicle. Both men left children behind and both men's deaths brought pain and anguish to their families and friends.

Both of these death so closed to Cody's kicked the pilings out from under my belief that the world is always safe and predictable. Deep down I know it is not, I mean, how could I not know with the upbringing I had? My conceit was believing that since I was now in charge of my life the world could not, not be safe and predictable. Now, I don't mean "not safe" as in there are terrorists out there but "not safe" as in people die young from illness and from accidents all the time. We all know this but sometimes we get trapped in "this shouldn't have happened." I spent several days telling myself that none of these deaths were fair and that they really should not have happened. By saying this to myself I wasn't really facing the fact that they did. By not accepting I was also heaping more anguish and anger on top of the anguish and anger I was already feeling. I can grieve and I can accept at the same time.

I thought I had reached that point in my thinking until ten days ago. That was when our older dog Kate stopped eating and we had what seemed like an uncountable number of dark days were we thought she was going to die. I did not want her to die and I was having a hard time accepting that she might. A trip to the vet, a change in dog food and feeding schedule, a new medicine, and then, finally, an improvement brought us back to the light. Even though Kate is doing better I still worry about her. She turned fourteen earlier this month so my fear is not that unreasonable.

This morning when I woke up she was lying very still in her bed; I wasn't sure she was even alive. I looked closely but could not tell if she was breathing and I reached down and laid my hand on her side. She was cold and I could not feel her chest rise and fall. I quickly got out of bed and crouched beside her gently shaking her- no reaction. I thought, "Oh, no," picked up a front paw and shook that. She stirred and then lifted her head and turned to look at me. In a split second I had gone from dismay to acceptance to relief to gratefulness and I wondered how that could be. Ten days before my biggest fear was that she would die, something I did not want to face. Now, when I thought she had, I accept it almost instantaneously?

It reminded me of another day years ago when I was still living in Denver and heard the civil defense sirens start wailing on a non-test day. At first I wondered what was going on and then I thought it must be real and that nuclear bombs would soon be falling out of the sky. I remember going through the same feeling of dismay at the thought of dying and then that calming feeling of acceptance. Death was coming and it was all right with me. Why? Was it because I was not afraid of death? Or was it because I realized there was nothing I could to to stop it? Or was it that I was not afraid of death because I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it?

What about Kate, is it her death that I fear or the change it represents? Is that what all the anguish that I feel surrounding death is about, fear of change? I have to think about this some more.

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