Last week one of my younger brothers died.
His death came via a year of hospitalizations for acute crises, tearful family phone calls and the growing, gnawing realization that his passing was inevitable with only the date being uncertain.
I received the call early last Friday from a brother-in-law that Paul’s end had come the night before in a state distant from my own. Another phone conversation followed with a sister bereft with grief and sobbing so hard she could hardly catch her breath. She was not at her home yet but was in her son’s apartment on her way back from a mission trip in Joplin, Missouri. Her son was at work. I urged her to contact him. She need someone with her to deal with this “inevitable” family sadness.
Initially, I felt numb. This passing was expected, after all. In a few hours however, I knew I was not so immune to this loss of a brother. My energy level was low and I felt oddly disconnected to the usual routines of my life. By the following day I realized I was remembering my brother as a child, an adolescent. I was remembering our childhood, our adolescence. We grew up together. He was only three years younger than I. As my mind processed various events and escapades from our past, I more often had a smile around my lips and not tears.
Yes, his death was inevitable … with only the date being uncertain. The same is true for the rest of us. My husband reminds me from time to time that “none of us are going to get out of this alive.” I often laugh at this somewhat macabre reminder, but now it is almost a freeing reminder that it is the time before we die that is what we control, enjoy, experience, etc. You select the verb.
Writing such personal thoughts do not come easily to me. To describe me as stoic would probably be understatement. However, I have sobbed to the point of nausea upon the death of a beloved pet and embarrassingly teared up watching “Bottle Shock” and the “Loving Story.”
Yesterday, one week after being informed of my brother’s death, I awoke to the frenetic reporting of the Aurora, Colorado shootings. This mass murder brought on many more reflections. None of us get out alive, but does it make a difference if death is slow and the result of disease or condition than if it is the result of a sudden criminal act? This is a rhetorical question for now, but it will be percolating in my subconscious for a while.
The reality is that most of us have little control over the timing and circumstances of our deaths. Suicide, euthanasia, and advance medical directives are qualifiers of that statement. But basically life is what we have around us at this moment. The next moment is not promised. Christians will disagree with this “in the now” orientation because for them life is everlasting, but that belief does not persuade skeptics.
Goodbye, Paul Cunningham. May you rest in peace.