On death and closure (or lack thereof)

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Not to be a downer, but death has been on my mind lately. A week ago, a young alum from my college died in a car accident. A few days later, a girl I knew from high school dance team passed away. Then of course there are the high-profile deaths: the tragic bomb and shooting in Norway, the train accident in China, Amy Winehouse.

Like that list, this post is going to be a bit disjointed. I’m going to jump from thought to thought, the way I do in my Reading Reflections. Only this time, I’m not responding to the lines of a story; I’m responding to life. To death.

• I feel a responsibility to remember. I feel guilty because I didn’t know the guy, despite our mutual connections. I could have known him, but I didn’t. I feel worse, I think, because I did know the girl, and she was a lovely person. But in many ways I didn’t know her well “enough” — I don’t have a right to real grief.

• We wish we could make sense of it all, wish that the deaths had a larger purpose. Maybe for some people they do. Me, I’m still mulling it all over. Is purpose something we are given, or something we create? Does it make a difference?

• I cannot imagine what that 90 minutes was like for those kids. Or maybe the problem is that I can imagine, and it’s beyond terrifying. (Side note: I couldn’t help thinking, And that WSJ book reviewer doesn’t think kids live in hell? Hah. I know it’s not a typical situation, but still. Shit happens. All the time, all over the world.)

• More people on Twitter and Facebook posted about Amy Winehouse than Norway. Then came the backlash: why does a celebrity with a history of drug abuse get more attention than innocent children? On the one hand, I understand that sentiment, but on the other, everyone is allowed their opinions, their feelings. Sorrow shouldn’t be a competition.

A recent piece in New York Magazine talked about how Twitter and Facebook may be more “lifelike” than books or articles,because of their lack of narrative structure. They don’t give happy endings or closure. They just simply record our natural timeline, reflecting our reactions as they unfold. Maybe that is more like real life. Maybe that’s never more clear than when we’re faced with death.

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11 Comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about death recently too because we’ll probably have to put down one of our dogs in the next few months. He’s in kidney failure, and doing okay for the moment, but…well…that won’t last forever or even for long. I hate this part of pet ownership, that they don’t live nearly as long as we do, and I believe it is up to the owner to decide when to end it–in the case of chronic illness, at least. It’s an impossible choice that you can never know if you got “right.”

    Beyond all that, this will be the first time my children will experience the death of something they knew, that has been a part of the fabric of their lives – for their whole lives, no less. How do we handle this? Do we start talking to them about it now? Do we just do it when we do it and tell them afterwards? And the questions that will follow… I don’t know how I’ll handle the questions on top of my own grief.

    So there you have it. My thoughts on death these days.

  2. Oh Sonje, I’m so sorry. You’re right, there will never be a “good” time to do it. I wish there were some way I could help… All I can say is, we have to do what’s best for the creatures who love and trust us. Your children will be able to understand that, if not immediately, then someday.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about death. My heart goes out to all those families who are suffering this weekend.

  4. Kristan, “Sorrow shouldn’t be a competition.” Exactly. There isn’t some ranking system for awful things that happen. Also, it is hypocritical of the mass media to do everything possible to encourage us to value celebrities over everybody else, and then to turn around and chide people for doing exactly that.

    As for what is most “lifelike,” of course life (or even the tiny sliver of it that is represented by FB) is going to be more “lifelike” than fiction. I always remember when a friend (a professor of literature) said my second novel was “too much like life.” On one hand, I was kind of proud of that. On the other hand, he had a point.

    Sonje, I have never had children, but I have had pets and have had to make those decisions (including about a cat who had been with me for 20 years), and it is always difficult. Make the decision that you think is best for your pet, that’s all you can do. As for the children, it depends on how old and how mature they are. If they are old enough to understand that they need to say goodbye, it would be good to give them the chance to do so.

  5. Kristan, I’ve been thinking a lot about death too. As you know, my grandfather recently passed away, but my experience was on the opposite side of the spectrum. He knew that it was the end, he had been expecting it, and though he was relatively young, he was ready.

    What’s strange to me is how saying goodbye brings people together. In many ways, my grandfather’s death was a healing to my family as much as a loss. I think he would have loved that.

    I look at death a bit differently. I love the line in HP7, “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living.” What’s hard for me isn’t saying goodbye to my grandfather, I believe he’s in a better place. What hurts is watching my grandmother try to live without him. That breaks my heart.

  6. Death was on my mind this weekend, too. I almost wrote about it, but really only had one thought:

    Saturday night as I was walking my dog and rounding the bend toward the sunset, all I could think was what a pity it was, and a tragedy it was, that Amy Winehouse and the victims in Norway missed it.

  7. Thank you for the honest emotion in your post. Death is never easy for the ones left behind. I think that twitter and FB didn’t have as much about the tragedy in Norway as the death of Amy Winehouse because in Norway , children died. It’s harder to deal with the death of a child (in my opinion) than other death because children are supposed to out live their parents.And when a child dies it makes us feel more vulnerable to world.

    When death is unexpected or expected it can leave a hole in us somewhere that we then have fill in again, with life.

  8. Amy Winehouse’s music touched my life in ways no little pale kid in Norway probably ever could. And personally, I think it’s more tragic to die due to inner turmoil than due to something completely outside of your control.

    Not trying to be argumentative with anyone, I just wanted to express my opinion on the matter.

  9. I read that NY magazine article when Jane Friedman posted it on google+ and it is absolutely one of my favorite bits of writing of all time. It’s so obvious, but only when pointed out.
    Humans never cease to intrigue me, draw me in, and hook me. and they never cease in disgusting me, frustrating me, forcing me to consider what life means.
    That’s when I turn to stories. If we can understand our deepest fantasies, then perhaps we’ll figure this thing out together. Not that I really want to. I just want to eat, sleep, play, work, die.

  10. I never know how to feel about death. Or what to think. It’s so intensely personal, yet at the same time, not personal at all. I’m at a loss.

    My thoughts still go out to everyone affected, because no matter what, it’s not easy.

  11. Stephanie-
    Our family had a similar experience when my uncle passed away unexpectedly in 2004. Even though we were sad, we came together and spoke honestly with each other in a way we hadn’t done in years. That whole week we told stories and laughed and cried together. I think my uncle would have been really happy to know that he had done that for us.

    Juliann-
    Well said.

    Aisha-
    I don’t think you’re the only one that feels that way, and it’s a valid opinion. Like I said, I’m not sure where I net out, exactly.

    Sarah-
    I think I got that article from your retweet, lol.

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