Life and death have been on my mind lately. The reality of these unavoidable phenomenon is different from them in abstract. I have been enthralled by the aesthetic cultural trappings of death ever since I was a child: skulls, graveyards, black everything, heavy metal, the list goes on. All of that is an entry for another day, but those things are not death and life is not their opposite. Creating a life is a huge responsibility that is impossible to truly comprehend until it happens to you. Children change from being grubby, screaming monsters to living breathing people whose comfort and happiness are your responsibility. Many people treat that responsibility with selfish contempt and fill the world with unpleasant and broken souls as a result. But for those who choose the path of parenthood, the reward is long lasting. It’s a new path for me, so my journey is just beginning.
Death touched me recently when Dan Sloan, a good friend, died of brain cancer. Everyone knew it could happen, but people beat cancer all the time so we all hoped for the best. A few weeks before he died we had lunch at Sicilia, our favorite sub shop in downtown Salt Lake that makes the best Parmesan chicken sub you will ever eat. We laughed about old times and caught up on friends from our days at the University of Utah. His latest round of chemo was not successful and he was much thinner than the last time I saw him. He was still his jovial self, though, and it was good to see him laugh.
I found out he died while waiting for Pho takeout. On a whim I ventured onto Facebook for my yearly glance into the goings on of that strange world and saw that he passed several days previously. It was a complete shock and I cried on Erica’s shoulder when I got home. Even now writing about it a year or two later makes me choke up. I can only describe the feeling as an empty pocket in your heart where memories of their presence once slept. But time is the great healer and pleasant memories stick in your mind while the others fall away.
No one should choose the moment of their passage to the beyond. This brings to mind my cousin, Lewis, who tragically took his life as he transitioned from high school to college. My memories of him are scant since his family lived in Alaska and then the Midwest for as long as I can remember. I do have a vivid memory from a summer afternoon in my grandparent’s wooded back yard in Bellevue, Washington. We charged our fleet of big wheels down the steep hill and into the dry grass beyond the red rope swing. Lewis was always very physical, and we wrestled on the grass and filled the giant steel drum on the lawn with water. We all splashed in “cousin soup” as my family calls it.
Summer gatherings like this one are the only memories I have of Lewis. I never saw the pain he must have been in at the end, but I like to think would have gotten on well. After the funeral, his fencing gear and Lord of the Rings chess set were passed on to me. I sometimes imagine us matching knights on the game board after a workout of swords and canvas.
But enough morose armchair philosophy. Being responsible for a new life makes me appreciate my family and prompts me to not take them for granted. When the time comes when those we love move on, we can still enjoy their company in the halls of our memory.