death

I saw him in a dream

What the FUCK is wrong with you?!!

His sheepish smile instantly transformed to injured horror.  “What do you want me to say? I can’t DO anything about it now.”

You could say you’re sorry.  

He made a choice, took a breath, and decided.  “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

And you could tell me I’m right.

“About what?”

You remember how we used to argue – err, discuss things – and I would tell you that you ought to be more sympathetic to people who seemed from the outside like they make bad choices?

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Seriously?  Where the fuck are you now?

“There’s no need to swear.”

Bullshit there isn’t.  And fuck you.

“Okay I can see you’re really angry – “

No shit, Sherlock.

“ – so I’ll come back another time.”

No!  Please – wait! Come back.  Please stay for a bit. Please. I’ve really missed you.

“Are you ready to be nice?”

…. Yes.  Maybe. I’ll try.  I’m really angry with you, you know?

“I can see that, yes.  But I can’t do anything about it now, and being mean to me isn’t helpful.”

(Silence.  Tears drop onto my cheeks.)

“So – what were you trying to say?  About sympathy? I don’t see what that has to do with me.”

Oh yes.  You always had zero sympathy for anyone who made less-than-perfect choices.  You seemed to be incapable of empathizing for anyone’s particular difficulties that were outside of your experience.  Even difficulties that you were witness to, you never empathized if your friend / acquaintance thought about their options differently than you would, or had different priorities, or pressures that you didn’t understand.  Particularly people who (insert meaningful glare here) take their own lives. Do you understand what I’m getting at now?

That’s what you wanted to talk about?”

Is there something wrong with talking about that?

“It’s just that I thought you would be happy to see me, so I made the effort to come see you.  You look well and I’m glad you are happy.”

(Crying)

I miss you.  We should have been friends for a long time.  You and your wife should have grown old together.  Did you think about her?! About how you left her alone?

“She didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.”

That’s bullshit and you know it.  She loves you more than you realize and misses you more than you know.

“No she doesn’t.”

Yes she fucking does –

“Language.”

Too fucking bad!  Yes she loves you, and she blames herself.  I called her last week and just listened for as long as I could spare while she worked on processing all this shit.  She. Misses. You. And. Feels. Like. Half. Her. Life. Is. GONE.

At this, he looks shocked, and on the verge of tears himself.

“… I had no idea …”

Of course you didn’t.  Because you have no empathy.  You know, that thing that I’ve been trying to get you to develop so that you can make the world around you a better place.  But you were resistant and dismissive, and now this particular character deficiency has come around and bitten you in the ass.  Your lack of empathy kept you blind to how much you matter to everyone else, and in your despair you did something that you can’t undo.  You fucked up big time.

“…. I … I … I don’t know what to say …”

You could go visit her next time, tell her you’re sorry, and just let her yell at you.  I would tell you that now you know for next time, but that’s a bit of a moot point now.

(He hangs his head.  I reach out.)

I miss you and I love you.  Yes I’m angry at you. I’ll be angry at you for a while, and she will be angry, too.  Please understand that we’ll forgive you eventually, but as I said – you fucked up and you’ll have to wait a while.

(He fades.  He’s gone. It feels empty.  I cry.)

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Holiday roundup 2014: Lives remembered

We’ve had a pretty hectic couple of months, and early January is a good time to reflect on things.  Let’s be honest – January isn’t good for much else!

Anyway, I need to get my candle out again.

Here it is

Here it is

Thanksgiving weekend, the son of a family friend died of an accidental heroin overdose.  We went to his memorial service the following Saturday.

I remember the first time I met Seth – he had come to one of my mother-in-law’s parties with his mom Joan and his sister Katlyn.  I can make polite conversation well enough, but I was struck by two things – 1) he could keep up with me intellectually.  Not to toot my own horn, but I don’t meet many people who can.  2) he just knew exactly the right thing to say all the time – what an incredible gift!

In casual conversation, I told his mother how wonderfully sweet Katlyn was and how impressed I was by Seth.  When I said that she gave me a friendly half-smile, half-smirk and chuckled, “Yeah …” and stopped.  I half-chuckled along with her, having NO idea what that was about.

At some point over the next year, I heard the rest of the story from my mother-in-law.  Seth and Katlyn’s dad had been a horrible mixture of coddling and abusive to Seth.  Not Katlyn – just Seth.  Seth got the intersection of “Oh my sweet baby boy!” and “Suck it up – don’t be a whiny little girl, be a MAN!”  That type of abuse would fuck anybody up; and fuck Seth up it did.  He started a heroin habit as a teen, got clean a couple times, but relapsed periodically.  He would work really hard at getting his life together, succumb to a desire for a momentary fix, and then start from ground zero again.  It was very frustrating for Joan to know her son was capable of so much but was being dragged down by his addiction.

Ultimately, Seth and Katlyn’s dad left their mom.  Right when Joan was going through treatment for cancer.  Great timing!  Couldn’t have been better.  After the divorce, Seth and Katlyn’s dad didn’t talk to them.  No calls, no visits, no birthday cards.  Nothing.  By the time he was 19, Seth was a work in progress.  He was attending a support group for recovering addicts, Joan and Katlyn were attending a support group for families of recovering addicts, and it was then that Joan and Katlyn began preparing themselves for the possibility that they might lose Seth if he relapsed.  Seth was gainfully employed most of the time, even though he bounced around a lot.  He started attending church, finding strength and purpose there.

It was just last October that Seth, Katlyn, and Joan just happened to drive by my mother-in-law’s house on their way out.  When they saw that the kids and I were there and that we had JUST finished raking all the leaves into a HUGE pile, Joan pulled into the driveway.  No sooner did the car doors open but my girls RAN toward the car – “SETH!!! KATIE!!! Come PLAY with us!!!”

About three nanoseconds later, Katlyn was snuggling my baby boy who was shamelessly flirting with her, and Seth was buried in the leaves.  I yelled, “GIRLS!!! Be CAREFUL!!! Seth is NOT a jungle gym! BE NICE!!! Seth, hand me your sunglasses and phone – I’ll put them somewhere safe – GIRLS!!!”

I think it’s adorable when people are so doting that don’t tell my girls no, and Seth was one of them.  He would have let them jump on him, bury him in the leaves and squish him, and he wouldn’t have complained.  Lord knows why he was so sweet with my girls, but he was.  I did my best to watch out for him, because even if he wasn’t going to say no, it still wouldn’t have been okay for them to actually HURT him.

When my girls had worn themselves out from beating up and jumping on Seth (who STILL hadn’t complained and seemed game for more!), we all exchanged hugs and Joan and her family left.

That was the last time I saw him alive.

Early Friday morning after Thanksgiving, Katlyn woke up and saw a girl in white in her room.  She had never seen anything like that before but she wasn’t scared; she checked the time on her phone – 4:40 – and then turned over and closed her eyes.  She assumed she was just dreaming.

Friday afternoon they found him, shortly before 5:00 p.m.  He had been gone about twelve hours.

A few days before the funeral, I told my girls (ages 11 and 9) that Seth had died.  Because we wanted to be honest with them, we told them how he died, and we told them that it was an accident.  We told them that unfortunately that’s one of the dangers of illegal drugs.

But honestly ALSO means that’s not who he was.  Heroin was something he did, and his accidental death was something that happened to him, but that’s not who he was.  He was the guy who played in the leaves with them that day.  He was the guy who always knew just what to say.  He was the guy who was SO bright with SO much potential.  He was the guy who was going to look back on this time in his life and laugh at how far he had come.

His soul was such a bright light and the world is a little bit darker with him gone.


That same weekend my friend lost his mom.  She was very old and had been declining for some time.  It was definitely time for her to die and he knows this, but there’s still a finality to death that takes some emotional wrangling.  Being a middle-aged man, he’s dealing with it the way he deals with everything else – with a mix of morbid, light-hearted humor.


But the great circle of life continues – that same weekend, one of my coworkers became a grandmother.  Her daughter gave birth to a perfect, healthy baby girl three weeks ahead of schedule.  Baby, parents, and grandparents are ecstatic, doing well, and adjusting to the new little being in their lives.


I have to remind myself that even as we are sad for lives lost, there continue to be new lives, new opportunities, new experiences.  It is the nature of the world to be this way.

I don’t know what to say to close this post out, but one of the benefits of being Catholic when you don’t know what to say is that there’s a pre-prepared prayer for everything.  And one of the benefits of being Catholic in the internet age is that with a quick Google search I can find any of them that I want.  So I’m just going to scroll back up to my candle and ask all of you reading this – I don’t know what your religion or spirituality is (if any), but please send prayers / thoughts / positive energy up for the people in your world who are mourning lives lost and who are marveling at new life.

Death with dignity

At a Sunday afternoon Mass in August, Deacon Bob approached the podium to speak.  “Over this past week, I went to the doctor and I got my test results back.  I found out that my cancer has returned, and I have at most six months to live.”  He paused.  I felt the anxious sadness ripple through the congregation, but Deacon Bob stood tall, his face serene.  “But you know,” he continued, “I found out my prognosis on Thursday.  But God knew on Wednesday, and God knew on Tuesday.  Nothing is a surprise to God.”  He continued to speak for several minutes, sharing his meditations on the end of life with us.  He spoke with great academic depth, but at a level that a layperson could understand.

What struck me was how even though this man was facing his imminent death, he was the center of strength for all of us as we grappled with the news together.  With his unshakeable faith that everything was right with the world, including his place in it, “Nothing is a surprise to God” was a supremely comforting way to accept the inevitable.

Through the fall and into the winter, Deacon Bob continued to serve at Mass, and he continued to give the homily from time to time, with his trademark blend of calm wisdom and approachable intellectualism.  Until one Sunday he stumbled, and then straightened up as we rose for the Creed, his face ashen.  He never served at Mass again.

One late January morning before Mass, a red-eyed Father Jim walked to the front of the sanctuary and addressed the congregation – “I wanted to let you all know that Deacon Bob passed away a little bit after 2 this morning.  Both his wife and I were able to be with him as he passed into the arms of Our Savior.  He was very thankful for all your love, support, and prayers over these last several months.”  All of us spent Mass either openly weeping or stifling tears – even Father Jim, usually so full of joy to say Mass, choked back tears that morning.

Time passed, one Sunday after another, and eventually Mass without Deacon Bob became the new normal.

The following January, on the first anniversary of Deacon Bob’s death, Father Jim took a few minutes to remember him – “Even at the end, he never doubted, not for one minute, that God loved him and that God was with him.”

Watching the end of Deacon Bob’s life was like watching the textbook definition of a good death.  The type of death that I wish for myself and for everyone I love.  If I am given the gift of knowing when my time is coming, I hope I have the courage to face it, accept it, and prayerfully await the end with half the wisdom of Deacon Bob.

For Brittany Maynard, Deacon Bob, and anyone else who has had to look death in the eye.

candle prayer