An Untimely Death

Last weekend, I presided at a friend’s memorial service. Ten years ago, I presided at their wedding. A second marriage for both and a happy marriage. They were out bicycling on a sunny day; an undetected blood clot; a heart attack; sudden death.

This isn’t a post I particularly wanted to write, and yet, it kept digging at me. In part, because I’m still in dismay and sadness as I was all last week. In part, because I, too, am in a second and happy marriage; in part, because of the truth I spoke at the memorial service and which lingers.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

At some level or another, we all know that. We just don’t want to recognize it or think about it.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

It’s a very old idea: Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”; from the Book of Proverbs, much older than Ben Franklin and said to contain the sayings of King Solomon, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

I think I’m wandering in the land of meaning to avoid the reality: it sucks. It really sucks. But I didn’t say that.

What I said to the some 200 friends gathered was to live as our friend lived: kind, generous, loving, laughing. I said, take a moment to slow down in traffic; let someone in who’s trying to change lanes; take time to laugh with your family, to be generous to others in need.

All of which I believe. All of which I endeavor to do, even from my isolated perch at my desk at home.

I guess I thought writing might ease some of the sorrow I’m feeling, both for life and for my other friend in that marriage. A few months ago, my husband and I did both a marriage and two months later, a memorial service for a different couple.

Baby christenings are happier, as are weddings, usually, but the same rules apply. We do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Impermanence, the Buddhists teach: all things are in a constant state of flux.

We’ve had rain the past few days, finally, after a winter of drought with very little snow. The bluebonnets are thrusting little blue heads through the cold dirt and leftover oak leaves. That’s courage.

Perhaps that’s what I’m struggling with: the courage to accept impermanence. And yet, I know when the sun and warm days return, the bluebonnets will fade quickly as they do every year, leaving a mat of green leaves…as one thing transforms to another.








20 thoughts on “An Untimely Death

  1. Thank you for this beautiful post, Janet. And condolences to you and your community. So many relevant and poignant words you and our commentors have shared. Gratitude and acceptance – and seeking balance – have been pervasive themes for me lately. May we all enjoy and cherish our friends and acquaintances.

    1. Ah, Leslee, what kind words. Thank you so much for commenting and even more, for anchoring in the message. Those words, gratitude, acceptance, and balance have been much on my mind, too. And not from just my friend’s death, but also in recognizing the kindness of little graces – a friend checking in with a one-line post to ask how i’m doing, just because; another friend posting a kind message on FB about my writing. It takes so little to be kind. Thank you for being kind. J.

  2. I’ve always missed Jack Parr, and here’s one of the reasons: he once said, “The question isn’t whether there’s life after death, but whether there’s life before death.” Watching the world around me, I see too much death walking the streets: people isolated by attention to a screen, numbed to the beauty surrounding them, insensitive to the person walking alongside.

    We like to imagine we’re in control of our own lives, and to a certain degree we are. But we’re never wholly in control, and learning to accept that, and live accordingly, is so important. It’s one reason I’ve begun trying to keep a tidier house. I’m at the age where anything could happen, and I’d hate for anyone to come in and find dirty dishes in the sink. That’s terribly midwestern of me, and generational, too — but housecleaning as memento mori isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    1. I appreciate the Jack Parr quote! Thank you. Life before death is always the answer, and yet, for many, that’s a hard choice to make. Too often, we humans choose to wallow in grief or self-loathing. And rather than “control” of our lives, to any extent, I’d say we have choices, some more effective than others. But for the ineffective ones, if we’re paying attention, we can always choose something else. And don’t worry, I doubt anyone coming into your house would fault you for dirty dishes! Lol.

      I know it’s common to fault people attached to their digital media, but at the same time, what I know from young people is it helps them feel connected, and in some ways, safe, in a fractured world. It was a shock a few years ago to discover ALL the young adults in my college class of public speaking had grown up during a time of war. That’s true today. I remember at a young age having drills to hide under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. Even at the time, I thought it silly. But I didn’t grow up with friends who went into the military service and came back in body bags. Many of today’s young people do.

      And I appreciate Facebook’s recent campaign to integrate real time suicide prevention into Facebook Live. “…it will offer live-chat support from crisis support organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line through Facebook Messenger, and make it easier to report suicide or self-injury.” What I’ve seen in the young is a chronic degree of hopelessness.

      So I’m not disagreeing with you, but I am offering another perspective.

      I’ve had a computer since the early 90s and have no idea how long I’ve been on social media. A long time. And I’m so very grateful to the many friends I have made at different journeys in my life and from different countries who are now just a keystroke away. And I’m grateful for the lives who have touched my life – yours and my commonality in Tom Parker, for example – who teach me again and again that we’re not as far apart as we may think. And, truth be told, in my youth, I spent a lot of time head-absent, dreaming up ways to escape my life on the farm, AND getting into a lot of trouble because I wasn’t paying attention – i.e. truck, tractor, and livestock accidents.

      To the best of my abilities, I now pay closer attention to living. But then, I’m a lot closer to death now than I was 50+ years ago. 🙂

  3. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.Thanks for your wise observation. I’m turning a corner after my recent 80th birthday. I feel entirely healthy but know at some unpredictable point things will change. I’m really having fun and enjoying the freedom to be here, today. ❤

    1. Thanks, Viv. I’m sorry for his family, too.

      80 is, indeed a corner. I think about that creeping decade milestone as I continue to look for ways to put my writing into the world. And as with any close death, I wonder. But at the same time, I, like you, am pretty happy with what is now. I am sooooo glad you’re still having fun. You liveliness is a gift to me and to all who know you. No doubt about it!

  4. I believe that it was Rumi who said, “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.” I am sorry for your loss, Janet, but grateful for the ideas that you shared with us today.

  5. blue bonnets don’t know from death. maybe they know they will be back when the right amount of sun and rain presents itself again. maybe they don’t know anything just molecules doubling. pretty though

  6. I’m so sorry for your loss, Janet. Even though, I sort of believe that our energy is transferred to another source, it’s difficult to imagine that we’ll be ‘gone’ one day. My sincere condolences to you and their families.

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