I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Not my own death in particular, but the deaths of those around me. Actually, to be specific, the deaths impacting those around me. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll likely know that I am not very sentimental about death because it is inevitable. We get old, sick, accidents occur; these things happen. But when it is avoidable, that is another story entirely…but I’ll get to that further down.
Just yesterday we learned about the tragic death of 22-year-old Bobbi Kristina Brown who, like her mother, was found unresponsive in a bathtub and never regained consciousness. Her demise was drawn out since January and I can’t even begin to imagine the anguish of those around her during the six months of waiting. I once had a 32-year-old friend who suffered a brain aneurism and was put on life support for only six days and yet they felt like years. As hard as it was to turn of the life-support machines, at least closure was then possible.
Last week a dear friend lost her grandfather. He was up in years and had led a rich and wonderful life, but it was still a sad occasion for my friend to say goodbye to this man who had been so close and important to her throughout her life. I never met her grandfather but my heart aches for her grieving.
My sister also lost a close friend last week. Her friend, by all accounts, was a vibrant caring woman whose passing has touched many. She died in a car accident and so my sister and her friends are all in shock because of the suddenness of it all. They will find closure but with questions that may always linger since none of them were there to know exactly what happened. In my experience, not knowing the exact cause of a death is one of the greatest obstacles to grieving. It is never easy, but when the cause and course of events is clear, it is somehow a tiny bit easier to move forward.
Also last week – it was a bad week, I guess – the well-known writer and commentator, Alan Cheuse, whom I’d met at conference a few years back was in a terrible car accident on a road I’ve driven many times and is now in a coma. His prognosis is better but the waiting and wondering there has also begun and my thoughts are with his family and friends.
And, of course, the remarkable writer E. L. Doctorow also passed last week at the age of 84 and while his passing was not following a horrible accident I’m certain the pain of letting him go was excruciating for his family.
And then I started reading all of the tributes to him on social media and wondered about how that impacts their grieving? Does it prolong it since the articles and tweets and postings continue to be published? Or is it comforting? I hope that the latter is the case. And, I suppose, when people like President Obama are among those sending tributes, it probably feels good to know that their loved one lived a life that was both worth noting, but also one that will never truly end because his words are forever available to us through his prolific writings.
But the recent death that hit me hardest, personally, was that of Sandra Bland. I had never met her nor do I know anyone who had. We have absolutely nothing tying us together, as far as I know, except that she was also living on this same planet we call Earth. But I have cried over her death and the unthinkable injustice that she endured. I have absolutely no clue as to what actually happened to her – and I will withhold my theories – but in my opinion, no matter what the specifics turn out to be, her death is the result of one bad cop’s actions. She should never have been detained in the first place. Period. She should be alive today.
I absolutely believe her absurd “arrest” was racially motivated and compounded by the fact that that little man was intimidated by a tall, beautiful, well educated woman who knew her rights and spoke them clearly. His saying “I’m going to light you up” is a clear KKK reference and I feel sick to my stomach to be reminded that such hatred continues each and every day in this country. For every case like this that we hear about, I’m certain there are countless more that go uncovered.
When I follow stories like this – for they are far too frequent – I feel helpless and even at times hopeless. But then I remind myself that thinking like that only perpetuates the problems. And so I try to write about it here, I post relevant links on Facebook and I spend time on Twitter most days to re-post tweets from those who are fighting up close and personal every hour of their lives.
Most importantly though, I check myself constantly to make sure my own behavior does not perpetuate racism. I am far from perfect and I am certain I screw up regularly – say the wrong thing, respond inappropriately, give a side-eye at the wrong moment – but I try very very hard to be a better person. My favorite mantra has always been “Be The Model, Not The Judge” and so I try to live by those words. I don’t know that I help much, but I pray that I never hurt anyone.
We can’t bring back the elderly or those who die in accidents or from illness, but we can speak louder as a population and stop allowing the continued murders of innocent people purely because of the color of their skin.
If we do not stand up, we are no better than the murderers who kill them.