Thursday, October 27, 2005

Memento Mori

     Grief is a topic that I find it hard to write about. Death, as a concept, is not so difficult, but the pain of loss palpable in my own life after someone I care for dies is another thing altogether. Sadly, I have faced it twice in the last month and will face it again before too long.      
     I tried to write about this before and just could not. Getting the play on stage drained me emotionally, especially since it is all about death. The two deaths I am coping with could not be more different.
     My friend, Teri Selcoe, died at 78 after a brief, though intense, illness. She lived a rich life and left many beloved family members and close friends, not to mention the acquaintances and even strangers that she touched through her activism and dedication to the greater good. (Thanks, Cheryl, for that nice turn of phrase.)
     A shoulder injury bothered Teri quite a bit all summer and her efforts to treat it did not seem to be working. Finally, after extensive tests, doctors discovered that she had advanced, inoperable lung cancer that had metastasized into her bones. Her injury was actually cancer at work. Teri’s diagnosis came on August 16. She died on September 25. Those brief weeks were full of love from her family and friends; she had the death she wanted, on her own terms. If there is a good death, I think Teri achieved it.
     The second death I faced occurred on October 10. My nephew Steve killed himself in a tragic act of anger fueled by alcohol and accomplished with a conveniently loaded gun. Steve left behind three young children, a wife of ten years, parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends who are all bewildered and stunned.
     It is true that Steve had faced problems in his life, including some severe ones in the last two years. It seems he is now relieved of the burdens those problems caused him, but at what cost? His life problems have now multiplied by the numbered of people grieving for him. We all have to shoulder them in one way or another. Suicide may stem from desperation, but at heart it is a selfish act, cowardly and unworthy. Perhaps this is why Western religion has always put such a taboo on suicide. (Perhaps Eastern religions do, too, I just don’t know.)
     Nevertheless, I am grieving for Steve as much as for Teri. Neither is replaceable. Neither can be forgotten. Neither is accessible. I can’t ask Steve why he did it. I can’t ask Teri what she thought of my play. Everything that could be in our relationships already is and nothing more is possible between us. That is the heart of my grief. The denial of possibilities.
     I think about this a lot when I contemplate the future deaths of people I love deeply. How I will want to tell them something and won’t be able to, want to ask them something and can’t, want to touch them but they won’t be there. It makes me breathless in the abstract. What will it be like as a reality?
     This is why I avoided writing about Teri and Steve until now; I didn’t want to think about it. Thinking about my own death is easier because I can’t. Can’t see it, can’t imagine it. Anytime I think about being dead, I am actually “seeing” the aftermath, which means I would be alive. It’s a paradox or conundrum or something. It’s a mental moibus strip.
     It’s late. My baseball team lost the World Series flamboyantly tonight. I am feeling sad thinking about other friends and family already lost to death – Drem, Randy, Donna to name a few. I think I will close and put myself to bed with this last thought: Memento mori – Remember you must die.


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