Death is an unpopular topic. It's something we spend our entire lives trying to avoid, yet it's something we all must face. I remember my first encounter with the Grim Reaper. He had paid a visit to my family and had decided to choose my great grandfather as a companion. My mother reluctantly agreed to allow me to attend the wake only because Plan B meant I'd be removed quickly if I showed any signs of becoming upset. The vivid memory I carry with me to this day is one of the few truly peaceful moments in my life where I remember my family coming together as one.
No one fought. No voices were raised. People hugged each other warmly as they said good-bye to a man I barely had come to know. At five, I already had discovered how having a healthy curiosity about life had often times gotten me into trouble. Even at that young age, discipline rarely curbed my urge to explore. Instead, it only made me bolder and more aware of my surroundings. As I "explored" the building and observed everyone who was present, I silently maneuvered myself through the crowd until I was standing next to my great grandfather. His eternal sleep was void of the usual snoring all men seemed to make as they slept. He looked peaceful and although I didn't want to disturb his sleep, I instinctively touched his hand and whispered good-bye. As I turned to walk away, I noticed all eyes were on me. The Grim Reaper hadn't been so scary after all!
Death is final. Yes, I had learned that at an early age, but I never was disturbed by death until it was a death of a friend. We all expect our elderly relatives to die. We use logic to soften our grief saying "they lived a long, full life". Those of us who lose loved ones to a long illness sometimes feel a certain type of relief when death finally comes. That person no longer suffers and their pain ceases as their memory lives on in each of us.
The hardest deaths to accept are those of people who die suddenly or unexpectedly. When children or someone who hasn't had a chance to live a long, full life die, we question the fairness of death. At those times, we realize how random and unannounced death can be. For me, the death of a friend was what made me come to terms with my own mortality. Those who live in the fast lane, usually die young. I first started losing friends to their lifestyle choices at the tender age of 18. The first was my closest friend, Charlene who died from a methadone overdose and the last friend I lost 5 years ago was Michael who died from complications from having AIDS.
The day after my daughter's wedding, the friends I had invited who lived out of town decided to stick around. It was nice having a little time to visit with them because it seems as we get older the only time reunions happen are at important events like weddings, graduations and funerals. Although Jill and Sandra had never met, by the time they left Pensacola, they were friends. What started as a simple day of exploring downtown Pensacola turned into a spiritual afternoon of remembrance starting with a trip to The Wall South.
Tears ran down my cheeks as I ran my hand over the black granite panels housing the names of people who had lost their lives in the Viet Nam War. I slowly walked along the Wall South like I have done so many times in the past, but this time was different...this time I was sharing the experience with two people I dearly love. The Viet Nam War like the war in Iraq had claimed the lives of many young Americans. Gazing at their names in their entirety is overwhelming and as I gazed and wept for those who had died, I prayed that the list of names now will never be as long as the ones engraved on The Wall. Being in Pensacola, made Sandra want to visit her brother, Michael. She hadn't returned to Pensacola since his funeral and wanted to put flowers on his grave.
I typed Michael's name into the grave locator at Barrancas National Cemetery, then printed out a map for Sandra to keep. The uniformity of the landscape at first made our search seem difficult until we realized the grave markers were numbered. Our aimless wandering almost seemed like some dumb blonde joke in the making. How many blondes does it take to find Michael? Of course, the answer was three and I felt somewhere Michael was chuckling as we finally figured out the schematic of the cemetery. There he was resting between two older World War II veterans in a picture perfect impeccably manicured cemetery. We scattered red rose pedals overs his grave and placed the fresh cut flowers in a vase. Instinctively, we all sat by Michael and began talk, laugh and cry. We introduced Jill to Michael, but I think she felt like she already knew him by listening to the various stories we had told her as we drove to NAS Pensacola where the cemetery was located. The whole afternoon had seemed veiled in a surreal peacefulness and my thoughts kept dancing back and forth between the past and the present until they became one. Sandra wept for the brother she loves and misses and I wept for the friend who still remains with me.
Life is a battlefield and death is its victor.
Gratitude statement: I am thankful for not fearing death, but seeing it as the final stage of life. If there is an afterlife, I will be grateful to be reunited with people who have filled my heart with love and joy.
All gibberish within ©2004-2010 Mildred Ratched Memoirs.