“Nothing is wasted. This is an experience through which you will grow.” I don’t know who said this. I read it several years ago and I wrote it down because I liked the sound of it. And, a couple of mornings ago, when I was shocked to the core by the text message news that someone I knew had died at the scene of a tragic accident, those words immediately echoed inside my brain.
Her name was Denise McFadden. My knowledge of her was casual—I never met her family members; I’m not even sure of her address—she was simply someone with whom I shared occasional pleasantries at either the start or the end of her many running workouts. She was accidentally struck during an early morning workout run on January 27. She died at the scene.
She was 51-years old and an avid long-distance runner who had participated in numerous endurance races, the most notable of which were her multiple participations in the New York and Boston Marathons.
The best way I can describe my own emotional state is to tell you that it lies a bit deeper than clinical but well short of the deep feelings of personal loss that her family is going through right now. In fact, I can’t imagine that the word, “devastated,” comes within a light-year of describing it.
My biological father was killed in an automobile accident when I was 15-years old. I was in school at the time. I’m 70-years old and not a day of my life has gone by that I have not thought about him at least once.
We humans don’t understand death very well. We—most of us, anyway—don’t even like to think about it. It’s eerie and it bothers us. We tend to push it from our minds as though ignoring it will keep it from happening. It doesn’t, of course, and we’re rarely truly prepared for it.
Worse, we always fail to recognize that it’s the “not thinking about it” that prevents us from gaining any significant understanding that death is every bit as much a part of our lives as was our births and our zest for daily living.
Grieving can only occur when our relationship with the deceased was positive and loving. We grieve because death ends a LIFE, not a loving RELATIONSHIP. In fact, nothing but our own deaths can end such relationships. It is time that teaches us—if we permit it—to live without a deceased loved one.
Moreover, if we permit, the sudden death of someone we love and/or care about, will give us a greater awareness for the value and tenuous nature of life itself.
I didn’t know Denise on an emotionally personal level; yet I’ve NOT been able to get her out of my mind. And, I suspect that my active memory will retain thoughts of her for some time to come. She was always bright and sunny. She was a sheer joy with whom to share a few friendly words on occasion and ALWAYS a wave as I drove by her.
My point is that some of our social conventions force us to “pretend” to be braver than we want to be. We need to abandon those implied and inferred social dictates that implore men NOT to cry, to “snap out of it,” and to “man-up,” all the while telling women to “let it out” by crying their eyes out.” All it accomplishes is turning some men into snipers and some women into emotional wrecks.
We’re not going to recover from sudden, or even some protracted deaths of people we love until we learn to get past the question of “Why it happened” and the idea that, somehow, we should feel guilty over the fact that “we’re still alive.”
People of unwaveringly strong religious faith and conviction will find solace and healing within the tenets of their respective faiths: “It was God’s will;” “HE does NOT make mistakes;” “HIS will be done;” and “HE will see them through it.” These beliefs, in cohort with time itself, comprise the soothing nectar of healing.
Others, like me, lean on the beliefs that there are things for which there are NO answers and that we must find a way to accept what happened without knowing WHY it happened.
Believing that death is final has always brought me just as much healing as a belief in eternal life has for those of religious convictions. And, while it in no way reduces what I believe to the status of fact, it has always made me appreciate, ever more, my temporal window of consciousness and my sheer luck at being born within the boundaries of a free country, surrounded by a loving family, wonderful children of my own, and a huge posse of good friends.
As well, it’s a silly notion for us to feel guilty that WE’RE still alive whenever someone we consider a GOOD and undeserving person dies under tragic circumstances. Of course, it’s far easier to say this than it is to believe it.
But, it remains that, in spite of the fact that most religions imply that we’re all undeserving scum, our remaining alive—unless we had a direct hand in causing it—is unrelated to the happenstance that someone else has died, especially those we considered fully undeserving of such a fate.
And, finally, no one we love, or even just “really” liked ever completely dies. My father—and now my mother—not to mention a younger brother and myriad good friends and enjoyable acquaintances, are ALL physically dead, but not forgotten. In this respect, all of them will remain alive in my mind until the day I die.
But, throughout the interim, my fond memories of all of them have transcended my initial feelings of pain and sorrow and shrouded me with lifelong feelings of loving, joyful peacefulness.
Though I did not know Denise’s family members, my thoughts and best wishes are with them. They’ll never forget her; but if they let it, time will teach them to live without her physical presence.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.