Some Thoughts on an Occasion of Sudden Death

Some Thoughts on an Occasion of Sudden Death

Amy

Her name was Amy and I first met her in 7th grade. I liked her; everyone did. She was friendly and cheerful and liked to laugh. She was prone to good-natured “teasing”, which could sting sometimes, but I would call her a friend. I didn’t sleep over at her house or hang out with her outside of school, but she was a friend. I never saw her again after graduation until last year at our 20 year class reunion; we weren’t the kind of friends that warranted staying in touch. She had not changed a bit; stick thin, blonde, with pointed features, big teeth and a squeaky voice. Cheerful, slightly goofy, very extroverted. She still lived in our home town. She was married and had four sons, aged 11-18.

She died two days ago.

I don’t know how, though a mutual friend tells me Amy had a severe drinking problem and type 1 diabetes. I learned of the news through an announcement on our class reunion Facebook page. I knew she had four boys and immediately, my heart broke for them and for her husband. My expression of shock and condolence was one of 40+, from classmates, many of whom did not come to the reunion and whom I had nearly forgotten existed.

I clicked on Amy’s profile, we are Facebook friends, and saw that she had been active within the past few days. Recent photos showed the same girl I picture in my head. And happy children and a typical family life. The stark reality, that she made those most recent posts with no idea that she would be gone from the earth by the end of the week, chilled me.

What struck me the most at our reunion two summers ago was how little everyone had changed. With the exception of a few involuntarily bald men, everyone looked exactly as they had in my memory from when we were 18. Back then, we thought we were already world-weary but were still shiny and new with no idea what was in store for us. Back then, we didn’t know that Andy C. would die in less than 5 years from a speedball. Or that Amy would be the mother of four sons, but would not live long enough to see the first one graduate from high school, which will happen in May.

Despite Amy being only a remnant of my high school days and really no part of my life at all, her death is an anvil on my chest. I and most of my classmates are 40 this year; is this just the beginning of a morbid acceleration? We made it nearly 22 years and only lost two of us. Will we start dying off a little faster now, or soon, maybe at the rate of one of us every few years? Who will be next?

I keep thinking of her four boys, her youngest the same age as my oldest, and my heart hurts to think of their next birthdays, the upcoming graduation, next Christmas. Oh, God, Christmas… they just had their last Christmas with her and had no idea. It seems unfathomable, the here-today-gone-tomorrow of it all. It seems so futile, all of it, but all I can do is say a prayer for her family and PayPal a little money to the collection the Class of ’97 is taking up to help with funeral expenses.

I wonder if sudden and unexpected, as shocking as it is, is preferable to a long, drawn out illness? I guess it depends on the perspective. To the deceased, sudden is undoubtedly the better option; you don’t get to say a long goodbye, but it won’t matter to you; you’ll be dead. But to your loved ones, perhaps, it is a conundrum. Nobody wants to watch a person they love suffer, but time provides the luxury of preparation, and at least a semblance of acceptance. Amy’s children woke up that day with a mother, and went to bed without one. It must be unfathomably jarring, like going to sleep in a warm feather bed and waking up on a cold kitchen floor.

When we hear about a sudden passing, we say the same things: hug your family, tell your loved ones what they mean to you; we aren’t promised tomorrow. Of course, this makes sense in the abstract. Death is an alarm clock: love them NOW, before it’s too late. And maybe we do, maybe we go hug our significant other, tell our children we love them, vow to be more appreciative of the people in our lives. For a little while.

But then the next day, you’re late for work and the kid won’t put his shoes on and so you yell, put your damn shoes on and let’s go, and you only think of the inconvenience and not the possibility that this might be the day your kid gets hit by a car or falls to some other unspeakable tragedy, because of course nobody can live their life that way. The best you can do on a day-to-day basis is remember to tell them you love them when you part ways or before they go to sleep at night. It doesn’t always occur to you to make sure your last interaction with someone is a good one because you never think it might be the last interaction, because you don’t plan ahead for the effect of recency in which the last thing that happens is the thing you will remember the most.

Death is a shadow over us all, but we usually can’t see it. If we could, we might stop living. We might find every mundane day futile in the face of others’–or our own–impending, infinite absence. But now and then you get a reminder, such as when the peppy blonde majorette you were friends with in high school unexpectedly dies, and even though you haven’t missed her in 20 years, suddenly you do.

 

Some Thoughts on an Occasion of Sudden Death

Josh

***In the few hours since I submitted this post for publication, I received word that another of my classmates has died. His name was Josh and he and I weren’t well acquainted, but in a class of less than 200 we weren’t strangers. He was well-liked, and a good friend of Amy’s. This doesn’t feel real.

Some Thoughts on an Occasion of Sudden Death

 


Senior Editor
Twitter  

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

11 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on an Occasion of Sudden Death

  1. Terribly sorry for your loss, Em. And your beautiful post strikes a chord with me. I’m 46 and keep thinking of the line from Indiana Jones — whether I’ve reached the age where life stops giving me things and starts taking them away. In the last year, I’ve lost my childhood best friend, my sister and my sister’s boyfriend. Even my cat is on her last legs.

    Time sucks.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. I am sorry to hear this, Em. It truly is very sad.

    I once got a very delayed email from an old girlfriend, my main partner through college. She was letting me know that her husband, the man who in a roundabout way introduced us, had died. She didn’t say how but simply was letting me know. He was at most 50 at the time.

    I am about a decade older than you (and went to a similarly small high school) and it is always shocking to hear of a classmates death. That and my own medical struggles lately have moved mortality to the forefront of my mind. It isn’t a fun thing.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. I’m sorry for your loss, Em. And as you point out, it’s hard both to learn the lessons we need to learn and to live our lives as day-to-day life demands.

    I, too, have had the experience of losing two former classmates who were probably what I’d call “second order” friends: they were friends, but we didn’t really hang out much. Strangely, in both cases, they died younger. One was probably 23 or so, and the other was probably 25 or 26.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. A fine and unsettling post Em and one that speaks to me as well. I turn 40 next year and I have noticed myself considering that dark oblivion that waits some indeterminate place in all our futures. I don’t really dwell on it exactly but I’m just…aware… of it in a way I wasn’t even 2 years ago. Maybe it’s the noticeable thinning of the ranks of people older than me; the complete disappearance of my “grand” relatives as an entire category; the lines on my beloved mothers kind face. I can just hear the cold whistle of the wind in the cracks more now in the quiet contemplative moments.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. Thank you all.
    I added another picture to my post, one that a mutual friend put on our FB group. It is Josh and Amy in high school-they were very good friends.
    The friend who posted the picture also said “I can picture Josh and Amy together right now, wherever they are, singing “Reunited and it Feels So Good”!” And that really is perfectly fitting of their boisterous, fun personalities.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. One of the things I realized post divorce was that life’s too short to 1) give a damn what most people think of you and 2) Grab life by the collar and do what you want to do…NOW.

    No compromises.
    No remorse.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. Condolences, Em. Had something similiar happen in my sphere this year. A high school friend, tbough one that I hadn’t been in contact with for years, got in a serious traffic accident this summer and passed away about of month later. He left behind a wife and three kids, about 13, 8, and 4 years of age. It was definitely mixed emotions attending the memorial and wake, seeing a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a decade; a good reunion for the worst reasons.

    (The older kids were quite impressive during the service, better than I could have ever been, even at twice that age)

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. There were 63 in my graduating class. I knew them all, of course. Many of them I had been with since kindergarten. Wayne died at age 25 in a logging accident when the helicopter he was on crashed. Mark died of MS at age 29.

    I’m a lot older now, and there have been a few more, and maybe some I haven’t heard about. Sadly, I know this territory, and it sucks.

    >>Hugs<<

      Quote  Link

    Report

  9. I’m sorry for your loss. And yeah, it will go on.

    My class was something like 350-400.

    We lost Stacy in the 4th grade. Childhood cancer, the girl with no hair. At the HS reunions we don’t put a picture up of her since she didn’t make it that far.

    We lost Peter the summer we graduated. I ate lunch with him every day for years. He stopped on the highway to help someone and stepped in front of a truck without looking. Helping people was in character but being stupid wasn’t, that didn’t matter.

    Amazingly, he was the only fatality at the fifth reunion.

    At the 10 year reunion I found out we’d lost a girl I don’t remember to murder and a guy I don’t remember to suicide… and a guy who, even in HS, was dying by inches in a wheelchair.

    I think there’s been at least three more since then (it’s been 30+ years since graduating), but there’s a ton more that dropped off everyone’s radar.

    If it helps, we know a lot more people than we think we know. It’s how we can lose hundreds of celebrities every year.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  10. Sorry for your loss, and I get it. I’m nearing fifty, and my wife and I lost our sister-in-law this year. This felt different from previous losses of grandparents, which while sad, are part of generational loss (they’re all gone now). Our parents are all frighteningly close to death (they’ve all had various serious medical issues–nothing immediate now). Getting older means fearing late night phone calls. And this is the best possible option, because the alternative is you dying before everyone else.

    My small high school in Indiana (about 500 students total) has a FB page dedicated to deceased graduates. There’s a shocking number from the years that I attended: one guy I knew personally died several years after graduation in a motorcycle accident, and there are more from cancer, etc. Just last year, a guy in my class died from liver failure caused by alcohol.

    If you think life’s not fair, then you haven’t met death.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *