Diapers and Dragons

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

I was talking last night with a friend, and somehow the subject of death came up. Cheerful stuff, you know? But it's real. And sometimes it's best to get it out, talk about the emotions, let someone listen and absorb and tear up in empathy.

I've been blessed with relatively few deaths in my experience. All four grandparents are still alive. My parents are well and healthy. I've lost very few people. When my great-grandmother died long ago, she had lived a long and wonderful life. I didn't truly experience the unexpected death of someone I knew well until nine years ago. Last night I realized the litany was more extensive than I thought.

Nine years ago a casual friend (a friend of my friends) was murdered, brutally. He had to be buried in a closed casket. The murderer was never caught. The general belief was that he had started dating a married woman whose husband had connections. My best friend at the time had dated him years before. It was the last straw in her already imbalanced mental state, and she went off the deep end shortly thereafter.

Seven years ago I lost my first student. He was very sickly, with a fatal condition. He simply never returned after Christmas break.

A year later another student died during the night from an undiagnosed heart problem.

Almost four years ago one of My Boys, the fringe kids with whom I somehow connect, was captured in Iraq. He was MIA for almost two years before the army found his remains. I remember when he came to see me and a few other teachers just before shipping out. He was so excited, so proud to be serving his country. The army had done for him what little else had done: given him a drive and purpose, structure for a life that had been chaotic. I worried, wondered what would happen, hoped he would return safe and sound. I'm still mourning him.

Three and a half years ago my aunt, my mother's only sister, lost her battle with leukemia. She left behind five children. I'm still working through it.

Three years ago a former student, one with whom I had become close through a Leadership Camp the school had run, died from shooting up heroin laced with fentanyl. She had been beautiful, brilliant, filled with potential. The waste of her life rocked me to the core. The other teacher and former students who had been part of our small group hugged and cried at her wake. She had gotten clean, had started dating another former student of mine who loved her and treated her well. We had hoped so much for her. The vicious embrace of that poison proved too strong for her to resist.

A year and a half ago my father's oldest brother died from a catastrophic stroke. Both my sets of grandparents have now outlived a grown child.

I know there will be more to come. My grandparents, as well as they are still doing, are in their eighties and nineties. And in my profession, the tragic deaths of the young are inevitable. Some are more senseless than others, like the student from one of the other high schools in the district who was killed when another teen hit him in the back of the head with a baseball bat. He had simply been in the area trying to get his brother to come home, away from a prearranged meet-up between hot-headed youths fighting over text message insults.

The world seems, at times, filled with the senseless deaths of those who have not lived long enough. It is broken. We are broken.

So I cling to hope and faith and friendship and love. If life is so short, if it can end in a moment's breath, then it should be lived fully.

And I'm finally learning how.

9 bits of love:

Kathleen said...

Wow...you have truly experienced tragic death.

"So I cling to hope and faith and friendship and love. If life is so short, if it can end in a moment's breath, then it should be lived fully."

But what a great lesson to learn through it!

Draft Queen said...

Death and I have become well acquainted in the past 13 years. Every time it gets a little harder, sinks in even deeper. And every time I try to remind myself that I'm still here and there is no guarantee how long that will last.

Arby said...

Death was not what He intended when He designed this world. Leave it to man to break it. I feel the recent deaths in my life quite deeply, especially the look on the face of a friend of mine after his son died from burns suffered when he huffed gasoline and then lit a cigarette. I watched my friend and his sister as they buried their father. The pain was so raw. Each event takes a piece of the soul, leaving an empty space that can be covered but never filled. I wonder if I'll ever get to the point where there is no more room for scars, but the soul filled with Hope seems to be infinitely large, able to withstand "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." It is both a blessing and a curse, but more blessing than curse.

mom said...

You're finally learning to really live -- that's the key. And remember that there is hope -- at least for those of us with that assurance. I have been thinking about your aunt this week, so much, with her "angel" here visiting us. And once again I realize that heaven will be a huge, precious reunion of sister and brother souls. It makes living much less tense, knowing that this is not all there is. The "angel" was telling me about how, now, some people want to avoid death ANY way possible -- multiple transplants, extreme interventions even against all odds. That's a symptom of hopelessness, to me. But I agree that the hardest bit is dealing with the cruel deaths of the young and the foolish, and of those who leave too soon. Du courage, and know that we all need to pull through, and together is better.

Todd said...

Beautiful conclusion. My wish is that you take that lesson to heart and pass it along to your kidlets.

MomZombie said...

Well said, Teacher Mommy, and only learned through experience.

Stone Fox said...

beautiful, beautiful post :)

kids dying (for whatever reason) always makes me angry and scared for my own kids, and deeply sad for the parents.

Beth said...

It's a difficult topic- one hard to write about without seeming maudlin or (even worse) self-centered.
You handled it beautifully.
I'm sorry for all the losses you've sustained.

GingerB said...

Here is a hug for each of you. Especially Arby - I ache for your friend.

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