I’ve never understood death very well. I didn’t understand when I was young and I don’t understand it now. When my friend Reggie died of cancer it took me five months to realize that I was sad. The illness of cancer ravaged his brain.
He earned his purple heart in Vietnam. Just a pugnacious kid. I still recall seeing a black and white picture of him with a huge bandage wrapped around his chest. He was grinning ear to ear. A 17 year old Marine cutting his teeth in the jungles of Nam.
Once, he was a physically strong man. He was a good leader, an excellent boss, and my mentor. He was hilarious. Sharp as a tack. Made his first millions in his early twenties, and lost it all to trusting crooked friends and new business partners. He had a soft spot for helping out the needy.
By the time the cancer got into his brain, it was over. There was nothing the doctors could do. He had taken up smoking marijuana, juicing, whatever he could to stop its spread, but it was over. In the middle of the night he jumped out of bed screaming, mumbling incoherently and rushed down the hall of his home. It took a few men to tackle him to the floor so he wouldn’t hurt himself. His brain was essentially devoured by the rot.
The doctor gave him a shot of morphine and he was put into his bed. He died that morning. I was told by phone about it the next morning. No emotion.
In his will, he ensured everyone he was connected to was given a small inheritance. His will ensured the hotel rooms for the entire crowd of mourners was paid for. That was the kind of man he was. He requested that the funeral home staff prop him up in a casket so he could ‘see’ everyone attending his wake. He was adorned in a purple bow tie and black sunglasses.
Where do good men go when they die? They go to some far away shore, to some distant, gray land that we don’t know about. To God they go. To some strange lodge on a hill, with shining lights, and an open door to sit with other men around a banquet hall we all suppose.
Arms go around him, and welcome him in, and laughter flows. The dead leave us with our sorrows, and they continue on to another life unencumbered by their pain. The cripple can walk, the legless can run, and those with a broken heart can feel love again.
Our pain is our own, our sorrow is our own…we are alone. We cannot describe to others the way we feel. There is no definable hurting to share, no hint of what aches the heart, or anything that we can relate to others on exactly what it is we feel. These moments, when they come, dig into us and we feel a savage loneliness. Any subtle thrill we have for living is burdened by the presence of death.
But life is not over. If we can get out of our heavy funk, if we navigate outside these roads of war within our own heart, we will grow. Long after the sad, blue odor of pain is gone, the scent changes to the sweet smell of hopefulness. How do we get out of this? By focusing on our friends who are alive in the here and now. By remembering what our dead lovers, friends and family meant to us. By carrying on in old traditions we used to have with them. By celebrating with others some of the silly, inane crap they used to do, by sharing with others how freaking hilarious or brave they were. Remembering the good times brings back good feelings.
I’m no expert on healing. This is my own opinion.
Daily, I try to leave my troubles behind me and in order to do this I must sometimes yield to the joy of living, I must yield to the possibility of dying, I must yield to the discovery of smiling and see with spirited eyes what my earthly eyes cannot see; the deepest, blackest midnights and the clearest, bluest skies; still, green blades of grass and sand the color of white wine. Every single heartache that rings my senses awake doesn’t always bring with it the dread of death, but instead carries with it a humble awe for God’s promise of courage and life everlasting, and in this comes freedom from temporary pain.
Originally published May 29, 2016 @ 04:00