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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

“Wow, what a bunch of lucky dogs!”

“Yeah; Barcelona for a couple of weeks; that would be just so cool.”

“When I took French last year, we went nowhere. That sucked!”

“Yeah, what a bunch of lucky dogs.”

“Oh-my-god!”

“Did you hear?”

“Yeah”…starts crying…again.

That’s dialogue. I don’t know whether it’s anywhere near what was said before and after the plane crashed into the Alps. I have no idea if that’s the way it went, but to this day – sixty-three years later – I can tell you exactly how those kids felt. I can tell you how fast the news spread through Haltern, Germany. I can understand the shock of fellow students, although not to the extent that comes from losing that many. But, I understand; I remember.

I remember sitting in a funeral home on Webster Street and looking at a casket who’s lid was closed…and sealed…because there wasn’t anything the funeral director or embalmer or whoever makes a corpse look life-like could do. I remember wondering how much of him was in the casket. Did they find all the pieces, parts of his body? Did he see it coming? Was he aware that he was about to die? Did it hurt much? We’d never toss a football around, ever again. He wouldn’t be one of the first ones picked when we bucked up for teams, never again. Yeah, I remember.

The “he,” in this case, was Joe Thompson, a friend who decided to leave high school in his senior year to enlist in the Army. He loved a good fight and wanted to go to Korea. He was at Fort Benning in Georgia; had come home on leave. He and four of his Army buddies were heading back. We never really knew precisely what happened; whether someone fell asleep at the wheel or what, but they all died. I don’t even know where the others were from, but Joe was from our town, a town of about 10,000. Word traveled fast. In those days, we didn’t light candles or create little shrines anywhere. We went to the wake at the funeral home, sometimes in groups, sometimes alone. One of the other things I remember well is that the walls of the funeral home were white, a stark white, and I remember thinking that they should have been something other than white; funny, the things you remember.

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s one or sixteen; whether it’s the jock or the class nerd; it’s a classmate and he or she is dead from this, that, or the other thing…and you won’t see them again. It doesn’t matter whether you were a good friend or not; this was a classmate. Kid could have been the biggest jerk in the school, but now the jerk got killed, and that changes things. As kids ourselves, we may not express it or even understand it, but it’s an indication that we aren’t immortal, invincible, or inviolable. He or she was a classmate – same grade or different; it doesn’t matter – and high school is nothing if not a community unto itself.

Is this as tragic as Newtown, or Littleton, Lockerbee or Malaysia flight 370? Sure it is. Nearly all death is tragic. It’s more so when it’s young people who die; even more when it’s a violent end to young life. The people of Haltern will get through this…almost. The pain will last for years. Memories will come back after years have passed and those classmates will remember an episode and they’ll start to cry. Someone may ask them, “What’s wrong?” and they’ll just shake their heads; perhaps look at their own kids. They’ll dry their tears and get on with what they were doing.

Some memories fade quickly. I used to believe that it was the bad ones that faded the fastest; that the good ones remained far longer. However, as you can see, there are times when even the bad ones come back to bite you. Just ask someone who lost a friend when they were young.

 

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I want to know where the hell the protesters are in Philadelphia and Fulton County, Georgia. What, you don’t know about the shooting deaths of two Black men in that city and Local County? Or is it possibly because they just happened to be police officers ambushed and killed in the line of duty? Is someone going to try and feed me that bullshit line that it was “in the line of duty?” They’re dead; they were Black; they were shot; they are dead. What the fuck is the matter with people who will protest over the death of a thug like Michael Brown and do nothing when a couple of Black, White, Pink, or Green police officers are gunned down.

Officer Wilson was in a shop to buy a gift for his son who had done well academically and who had a birthday coming up in three days. Two armed brothers entered the store and announced they intended to rob it. How dumb were these two? The patrol car, with Wilson’s partner was parked outside the store. They didn’t see Wilson until he announced himself. According to the “Officer Down” web site, “He exchanged shots with the two brothers as he drew fire away from the customers and employees. He was struck three times during the shootout in which over 50 shots were fired. The two men then exited the store where they were engaged in a shootout with Officer Wilson’s partner, who had remained in the patrol car. One of the subjects was wounded during the second shootout. Who is out there protesting the death of Bob Wilson? Perhaps his wife and two sons should take to the streets. After all, they have more right than most to hold signs that say, “Black lives matter.” They won’t do that however; they’re too busy mourning the death of a husband and a father. Who protests for them? “Oh, it was in the line of duty.” What bullshit!

Twenty-two-year veteran police officer Terence Green died when he was shot in the back of the head from an ambush position. Green and other officers were responding to a shots fired call. The suspect had left his house and gone into hiding. As the officers walked past, he fired, killing Greene and striking the radio of another officer. While his mother mourns, there are no protesters. He’s dead but, “It was in the line of duty.”

Since the beginning of this year, 19 police officers have died. In some cases, they have been in gun fights with suspects. In other cases, they have been killed by accident while pursuing suspects. Who marches for them? Who holds up signs saying that their lives matter?

Last year, 125 officers were killed “In the line of duty,” 47 of them from gunfire. These men and women have chosen to uphold the law, to protect the citizens of their communities, but I have yet to see a protest on their behalf; people marching in the streets with signs that read “Stop the violence against police officers.” It appears to be an attitude of “Well, they chose their profession so tough shit if they get killed; I hope they didn’t kill some poor, innocent kid before they died.”

The attitude that I have heard from some people about the police has nearly gotten me in trouble several times. I happen to be a police advocate. When those men and women put on that uniform and strap on that belt with, yes, a gun as a part of their equipment, they haven’t a clue as to whether they will return home that night for dinner and a drink or whether they will wind up in a body bag on a coroner’s table with a tag tied around their big toe. How many jobs have that kind of risk involved… not every few days, weeks, or months, but every 24 hours? It’s a horrible job. It’s overworked and underpaid; it’s people who care deeply about protecting others and are willing to lay their lives on the line for many they don’t even know. When Greene was killed in Georgia, one neighbor said, “I wish I had known him, just to say thank you for protecting us.” Too many people show disdain for the members of law enforcement, referring to them as “Gestapo” and worse. But when they need help, these same people will cry their eyes out when the police save their butts.

Am I prejudiced on this matter? You’re damned right I am. Over the years I have taught more than 4,000 police officers. Some of them are rough and ready, I admit. Some of them appear very cynical toward life, but that’s not cynicism, that’s reality. A few are bad apple bullies, but they generally get weeded out. Most are hard working men and women who want nothing more than to be able to do their jobs each day and get home safely at night for that “dinner and a drink” and maybe, just maybe a kiss from the wife or girlfriend and a hug from the kids.

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The death of Leonard “Spock” Nimoy is sad in many ways. He was a fine actor and, from all accounts, a fine human being. He was a man of many talents, from his acting and directing to some of the beautiful photographs that he shared with us. For me, personally, it was sad because he died of what’s killing me, that is, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. While it’s, as you may have read, the third leading cause of death in the United States, Mr. Nimoy is the first ‘public’ figure of whom I have heard, who has died… and I’m frightened of how it may kill me.

The one thing I do not understand concerning Mr. Nimoy’s death is the number of idiots who feel they have the right to dictate who should or should not attend his funeral. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner were close friends…for many years. The still-working Shatner had made a commitment that prevented him from attending the funeral. So what? Is it wrong that Shatner chose to honor the charity commitment he had made? Would Nimoy have done the same thing? We’ll never know, but just as Shatner’s children attended Nimoy’s funeral, my bet is that Nimoy family members will choose to attend Captain Kirk’s last stand.

Why am I harping on this? It’s personal and hits very close to home. A few years ago, my sister’s husband died; good guy; good husband; widowed before he met my sister; successful entrepreneur, and all of the other ‘good guy’ adjectives you’d care to mention. My sister asked me to fly to California for Chuck’s funeral, and I went. I went because it was the thing to do and because my sister – my only living relative – asked me to do so. It wasn’t a pleasant trip. In airports and of necessity, I traveled by wheelchair. My sister didn’t know it, and I didn’t tell her. It was a nice service and a nice reception, and a miserable trip back home…okay? It’s over and done with.

If my sister dies before me, I won’t go to her funeral, and should I die before her, I hope like the devil that she won’t try to come to mine…after all, she is three years older than I…no matter what she tells her friends. I fly to California and she introduces me as her ‘older’ brother…damn! It’s not that I wouldn’t want to say goodbye, and I’m certain she feels the same way, but there will be people, possibly some of my own children, who will think me wrong should she pass before me. It’s a crazy world. After all, neither of us is really going to ‘know’ if the other is present…what, I’m gonna lean into the casket and say, “Hey, I made it; how ya doin’? Ya look like shit.”  I mean, c’mon. Then some damned fool will ask, as they always tend to, “What did you whisper to her?” If you tell them, they get all pissed off, and if you don’t tell them, they think you’re a snob.

For those of you who are all pissed that Shatner was a no-show, how about Gene Roddenberry, did you see him there? I know he’s dead, but what difference does that make; he should have been there…and who is to say that he wasn’t. I think the only reason these idiots are criticizing Shatner for not appearing is that they weren’t invited to attend the services and they’re pissed off about it, so they have to express their displeasure and this is their way of doing so…it shows that they’re idiots, but it’s their way.

I’d like to believe, and to a great extent I guess I do believe…that somewhere down the line, Leonard Nimoy and Bill Shatner will get together again. I believe that in much the same way as I believe I will be reunited with my wife and family again. What do we really have if we don’t believe in the possibility of that? Kinda makes ya think, doesn’t it?

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The final epitaph

How strange. We go through life. Perhaps we have a moment of something that others might call achievement or fame. We help with the dishes, mow the lawn, maybe even add a new deck to the back porch, and then our name appears in the paper for three or four days…and we’re gone. Poof, that’s it; that’s the end of it. We appear with thirty, forty, fifty or more names, and that’s all. Well, no, it’s not quite that simple. If we have family, they grieve…for various lengths of time. If we’re without family; if our family pre-deceased us; if we died alone and unloved – except perhaps for a nurse or caretaker – we’re just a name in the paper, along with others, for three or four days…and we’re gone.

Life goes on. We’re not a part of it anymore, but life does go on. Our role is over; we’ve left the stage; we no longer drive the A48 bus along the same route we drove it for years. Some riders notice; most don’t care, just as long as the A48 transports them from point A to point B. That’s their role; go from point A to point B. Then one day one of the regulars is no longer on the bus, and their name appears in the newspaper for three or four days…and the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round…new driver; new faces; new newspapers left behind on the seats; new names in the newspapers.

What a peculiar merry-go-round on which we live, this carousel of life and living. Some people jump off for a few precious moments of glory and fame, but then they jump right back on; go round and round until it becomes their time to leave the merry-go-round forever. Others will jump on, take their place, and the wheel will continue to spin.

Wasn’t it Puck who said, “What fools these mortals be,” blaming others for what he had done, but even without his magic potion, he was right. Our moment in the sun is brief and then, like the magician’s flash paper, our light disappears. Hopefully, we have left behind a memento or several, either in terms of progeny or achievement. If progeny, we hope they will achieve something greater than our own contribution, but we don’t know, nor, in the end, do we really care.

As I age, more and more I agree with Pogo; “We have met the enemy and he is us.” How prophetic was Walt Kelly’s little possum in saying that. What monstrous truth appears in those nine little words? Taken on a very broad scale, man is his own worst enemy. Certainly, he doesn’t play well with others. One or the other is always trying to destroy some other ‘man’ for whatever ungodly – or sometimes godly – reason or other. So we must thank you, Puck and Pogo for your exceedingly insightful look into this creation we call man; this package whose dismal epitaph appears for three or four days as a line in a newspaper, and sometimes not even that.

Many moons and more than a few sunrises ago, my youngest came to me. She had graduated college months before and was working as a therapist in a nursing home. “Is this it?” she asked. “Is this what life is all about? We work during the week; watch old people die; party on weekends or do something else for two days and then begin again? Is this it?” How does one answer a question like that? James C. Collins, author, lecturer, and student of how and why companies succeed, has an interesting approach: “We will all experience disappointments and crushing events somewhere along the way, setbacks for which there is no “reason”; no one to blame. It might be a disease; it might be injury; it might be an accident; it might be losing a loved one; it might be getting swept away in a political shake up; it might be getting shot down over Vietnam and thrown into a POW camp for 8 years. What separates people, James Stockdale taught me, is not the presence or absence of difficulties, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.” My answer, although not quite as erudite, was probably similar to yours. “If you’re not living your life as you wish, what would you do to change it? How can you make your life what you want?” It wasn’t a particularly brilliant answer, somewhat of a cliché I would imagine. By and large, my life has turned out as well – I think – as could be expected with the product with which I had to work. I’ve known manual labor; I graduated high school and college (twice); I had a job that I enjoyed immediately upon graduation; was married; fathered children; suffered the usual tragedies of losing parents and even a few friends before the ripe old age of 25; changed jobs and enjoyed the second more than the first; the third more than the second, etc; learned the agonies of being fired without cause – “We’re abolishing your position;” what a pisser that was;  rehired and spent the next twenty years loving every minute of each work day. There were many enjoyments and few painful experiences. There was vicarious enjoyment through the achievements of my spouse and my children. Yet, looking at everything in hindsight, it was just life’s merry-go-round; a nice ride, but it’s almost time to get off.

I figure I’ll beat the newspapers, however. You see, I’ve already arranged that the newspapers not be notified. Those who want to know will know. I don’t care to be a line in a paper for three or four days. I will defy Dylan Thomas and I will go quietly into that gentle night.

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“I’m dying,” she said. Simple, direct, no drama to it all.

“Yes,” I replied, “I’m aware of that.”

“Can you help?” she asked.

“A rather strange question,” I responded. “Help in what manner?”

“Can you ease the pain? There’s a great deal of pain, you know. I don’t really mind the pain, but if there was a manner in which it could be eased, I think I’d feel better about the dying if there weren’t quite so much pain.” Always the pragmatist.

“There are drugs. Is that what you want? It might be for the best if you took them. They’ll ease the pain for a while.” It always seemed strange to me that when the doctors know someone is dying, how so many of them still seem reluctant to turn the dying patient intro a drug addict even though it might just allow their transition to be easier. I wonder why that’s so?

“I’m not big on drugs, you know; never cared for them; always thought they messed up my stomach. Guess I’ll just have to make some choices.”

“Yes, I guess you will.” She’s always been somewhat stubborn about drugs…as well as doctors. Had she not collapsed in the store, we probably would have learned she was dying after the fact…rather, a fait accompli. That’s really not very nice. She’s been dying for several years now. None of us had the courage to confront her with that fact which she would have denied had we mentioned it. I suppose that, as her husband, it was my place to speak up, but why irritate a person who’s dying and who already feels badly enough about the whole thing.

“Do you still love me?” she asks.

“Yes, I still love you,” I reply.

“Not as you once did, however,” she queries.

“No, not as I once did,” I respond. “I love you now without doubt, without fear, without any of those things that could call into question my love for you. I love you now with trust. Trust goes beyond the intimacy of youth, the molding of ourselves to one another; the attempt at altering the other’s opinions. This is, perhaps, the final stage of our love. Somehow, it seems more than appropriate, don’t you think?”

“We did have our times, however,” she says, attempting a small smile.

“Take this,” I say. Although she’s been on morphine for months, she appears to believe that what she takes is medicine. Perhaps this is some form of delirium, denial, or whatever. At least she’s coherent. Unfortunately, there are times when she’s not. Her milky eyes will stare at me and gibberish comes from her tongue. This is the time to stare back and nod. The tears have stopped; both hers and mine. Tears are useless at this stage. One might say, ‘all cried out,’ but that wouldn’t be quite right. I don’t think one can ever reach that point.

Her tongue comes out and the dropper releases its copper measure of relief. It won’t take long, but neither will it do much good. Should I continue to refill the dropper until the bottle is empty? Is that fair to her, to me?

Minutes pass; her eyes close; open briefly, and she is gone.

Too much?

 

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I don’t believe that anyone can ever know the feelings of true pain and agony until they have watched a loved one waste away to some horrible disease knowing full well that there is nothing they can do to stop or even slow down the horror of what is happening; I’m told that being kicked in the balls by a kangaroo might come in a close second, but I’m not from Australia and the only kangaroos I’ve ever seen have been on television. Therefore, it’s somewhat difficult to experience what the feeling might be like when it’s coming to you from a forty-two inch, high definition flat screen television set. There may be people with a better imagination than I who could double up and scream in pain upon seeing this, but they are, I’m quite certain few and far between.

Do I make light – or lite if one is a beer drinker – of watching a loved one die? Unless you’ve been there, don’t even think about criticizing me. One minute you think you’re doing all the right things to make them comfortable; the next minute you know that you’re just deluding yourself and you ask over and over again, “Why can’t I do more?” Another question that will pop up somewhere along the line, that is if you believe in a higher power, is, “Why are you punishing her this way, God? Why won’t you stop the pain?” All good questions, but you and I won’t learn the answers until we stand before whoever or whatever it is we will stand before in final judgment. I certainly hope it’s not a kangaroo.

I’m old. That means that I’m not only on the downhill side of the mountain; it means I’ve crossed the desert, forded the river, traveled the forest, walked the yellow brick road, and am well on my way to making that final turn into the homestretch and the checkered flag. It’s not the checkered flag that scares the daylights out of me, but that friggin’ homestretch. It may be long and painful or short and so quick that I’m gone before I even realize the pain…although I doubt that will be the case…just as long as it doesn’t consist of a mob, troop, or court of kangaroos doing their happy dance.

I have come to understand that it’s okay to joke about death…not to someone who is dying, of course – that would be rather crass – but I remember my late wife saying at one point, “You know, this really should be you laying here. It would be so much easier for me.” She still had a good sense of humor at that time. As many others, I believe, have wondered, “Why was it him or her? Why not me? He or she was such a good person. Why did it have to be…?” Maybe we learn the answers; maybe we don’t. Guess we just have to die to find out. Certainly, a kick in the balls from a kangaroo isn’t going to answer the question.

And don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against kangaroos…except…well…you know…oooh! Just thinking about it sort of freaks me out. I mean it’s not like camels; they’re just plain mean. They spit and bite and they smell. Ostriches can give you a hell of a kick, but not like a kangaroo…they take aim.

Is this supposed to be funny? Well, I’d have to think about that. On the one hand, yeah, yeah, it’s supposed to be a bit humorous, but on the other hand, there is very little humor in losing someone about whom you care deeply. It leaves a hole in your life; not in your heart necessarily…that’s the baloney that the poets push…but it leaves an emptiness in you that is always there. Sometimes, you can hide it; then, other times, it jumps up and punches you right in the gut. That’s the time when you just want to work things out by yourself…because I’m not gonna kid you, it hurts like a bitch. Somehow, you do manage to get through it…usually…but it’s like a tornado has passed by, sucking the air from you.

For those who haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet, don’t forget to stop and admire the view; it’s like nothing you will ever see again.  If you’re in the desert, fording the river, or going through the forest, slow down and look around. Absorb the beauty of all that surrounds you. Before you know it, you will have walked the yellow brick road and see that homestretch and the checkered flag. Before you reach it, soak up all of the good and beautiful you can…oh, yeah, and watch out for the kangaroos.

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Okay, here we go. Let’s get all of the members of the Asia and Hispanic communities across the country to protest the assassinations of Wenjin Lieu and Raphael Romero to get out there and protest. We can smash windows and loot stores and have Lieu’s new wife and Romero’s widow and children appear on television screaming, “Someone has to pay, and it has to be Black people because a Black man killed our husband and our father.” Then the President has to weigh in and say something like, “Wait a minute; these were police officers. They’re expected to go out and die for the city. Then Al Sharpton can get a few more minutes on the boob tube telling the public about what a great big, jolly fellow Ismaaiyl Brinsley really was and then the Blacks in Bed/Sty and other cities, particularly in St. Louis will have a reason to go out and break more windows and loot more stores and…ah, fuck it, this whole thing is just getting completely out of control.

Michael Brown was a thief and robber; Eric Garner was selling cigarettes illegally and resisted arrest; Tamir Rice was waving around a toy gun from which he had removed the orange cover denoting a toy. What the hell was the crime that these two police officers committed? Were they involved in the Garner takedown? I don’t think so. Was it because they were sitting in their patrol car in Bed/Sty trying to keep peace in the streets? Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.  I’m told that Brinsley had a long criminal record so what the hell was he doing with a gun? Answer that one for me NRA. I’m told he had an “undiagnosed mental illness.” What, in the name of God does that mean? If it was undiagnosed, how do we know that he had a mental illness? Behaving like an asshole does not necessarily qualify one as having an undiagnosed mental illness. I have an undiagnosed brain aneurism. Does that mean I have one or not. Well, I get these headaches so that’s what it must be. Now, if you swallow that one, I have a bridge in the Bed/Sty section of Brooklyn that I’m going to sell on the cheap. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

Seriously, the Michael Brown case is over. To Mom, Dad, and Step-Dad, the kid could do no wrong. The video of him shoving the store clerk shows a different side. To the family, he was just a big kid. To Darren Wilson, he was a credible threat. Eric Garner was a big man. He didn’t want to be arrested; wasn’t going to be arrested without a fight. The police jumped him. As I watched the video again, I heard him keep saying that he couldn’t breathe. If he couldn’t breathe, how come he kept saying it? Did the police overreact? Possibly, but why didn’t they just taser the guy and drop him like a sack of flour. “You’re under arrest” means put your hands behind your back after you’re down on your belly. It doesn’t mean, “Fuck you; stay the hell away from me.”

We’ve lost perspective in this country when it comes to law enforcement and how to react when people in law enforcement attempt to do their job to the best of their ability. “Put wings on pigs,” my ass. To me that mean that it was open season on Ismaaiyl Brinsley, and it’s just too damned bad that he got to fire the first shots.

I’ve got news for you Mr. & Mrs. Black America. Too many of you aren’t paying close enough attention to what your kids are doing. Those who are see their kids accomplishing great things. They see that because they are on top of their kids activities from the moment they leave for school in the morning. They pay attention to the report cards; they go to the meetings with their children’s teachers; They encourage their kids to do the right thing. How involved were you Mr. & Mrs. Brown? How involved were you Mrs. Garner? What was Tamir Rice doing out at night playing with his toy gun, waving it around in the park, and where were his parents?

Please, stop trying to excuse the actions of you and your children by telling me I’m white and don’t understand. That has been the bullshit excuse for decades. Just because the color of your skin is different from mine doesn’t mean that you “deserve” greater consideration or that you have “permission” to do things that would get my ass hauled into jail. We are people; you owe me nothing; I owe you nothing. What I do understand is that I know a hell of a lot of Black people who are smarter than I am, and I have great respect for them. I know a hell of a lot of white people who are dumber than I am and I say the same thing to them that I’m saying to many of you…”Get off your ass and do the best with what God gave you. Stop bitchin’ and start thinkin.’ Berry Gordy, Jr. was a prize fighter who was known as “Canvas Back.” He saw the light; borrowed $50 from his mother and if you don’t know the rest, go look it up.

Years ago, after being beaten to a pulp by some true idiots in the Los Angeles Police Department, Rodney King asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?” I don’t care about “getting along” with the Browns or the Garners or the Rice family. They screwed up…and they won’t take responsibility for screwing up. Wake up Black America. There are some fantastic role models out there for you to emulate. Get with the program and start emulating them.

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