Monday, February 9, 2009

"I Don't Know if You Know This, But None of Us Gets Out of This Alive"

A dear friend of mine, someone who practically helped raise me, died several months back. The priest at her Memorial Mass said the title of my post, in the beginning of his Eulogy. Yes, I'm certain he got it from somewhere else, but that's where I remember it from.

Today is the anniversary of another death. Her name was Susan, and she was my boss for ten years.

Two years ago, on a very bright Saturday morning, I received a call from another friend and co-worker, Donna. The only part of the conversation that I remember is, "Susan's dead." I know that we said more, I know that I drove into work to help begin sorting out the necessary things. I can remember that we were having a car show in our parking lot, and that it was hellish, trying to get in, and get a spot.

She died suddenly, without warning. We'd always thought that it would be cancer, she smoked like a chimney, and seemed to be unable to stop. It was a blood vessel that burst in her stomach, bleeding out rapidly internally. Susan went to bed Friday night with her husband, and woke up in the early hours of Saturday morning, dying.

Pat, my friend who died last year, had cancer. She was diagnosed about four months before her death. She'd been exercising, coughed, and noticed blood in the phlegm. Her doctor found masses in her lungs, but they were hopeful that they would be able to operate, and with chemotherapy get it under control.

What they didn't know at the time was that the cancer was already everywhere. They found it in her bones, her breasts, and eventually, at the end, in her brain.

She died in the hospital, with her husband there, telling him that it was time for him to let her go.

Another man, Paul S. worked here for years, retired, and died of a heart attack less than six months later.

Our second Paul S (affectionately called PS2), went out to dinner several years ago and choked on a chicken bone. By the time they were able to clear his airway, he was dead. His family kept him on life support for about a month before they removed it.

Bob had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and was beginning treatment. His heart just gave out one night.

Luke, for reasons known only to God, shot his wife and then himself, leaving devastated children and his parents behind.

My dentist was driving home one night and hit the curb. He was thrown from the car, dying instantly. His wife survived.

My grandfather took most of a year to die, it was his second bout with cancer. It'd gone into remission several years before, but it came back. He died at home, with my grandmother at his side, my uncles having just left after spending several weeks with them. We all knew it was coming.

My other grandmother died in the middle of the night when I was still a kid. She thought she was having an asthma attack, but it was a heart attack.

A young man in town, driving home from the hospital where his wife had just given birth to his daughter, ran into the back of a dump truck.

Caylee Anthony wasn't quite four when she was murdered, most likely by her own mother.

Denise Amber Lee was 21, the mother of two young boys when she was kidnapped and murdered.

Every so often we get an obituary for a child, sometimes even for an infant who lived a short, short time. Once in a while, we will get one for a still birth.

Look at that list. They range from the very young, to the very old. Natural death, accidental, murder.

Early on in RCIA, in the very first 'take-out' Mass, the topic of death came up. Most of the sponsors are older, and they all were talking about how the young fear death, but as they had gotten older, their fear of death diminished. Their faith took over.

I don't fear death.

Most people, when they hear me say that, start looking at me funny. As though they expect me to suddenly jump off a cliff or take up swimming with sharks. Lack of fear of death doesn't make one suicidal. Nor does it take away other fear. I fear some *manners* of dying. I would really, really like to not die by being eaten by something. I'm terrified of heights, and would rather not die that way either. But fear of pain, fear of terror, does not equal fear of death.

I don't fear death, because there's nothing I can do about it. One way or another, my life will end. I'd rather it be later, rather than sooner, because there are things I would like to do, but really, ultimately, I (or anyone) have no say in it.

We will all die. There's no way around it. From the moment we are born, we are dying. It's the natural order.

The point is: Live your life with joy.

Don't spend a ton of time worrying about how or where you're going to die, or when the world is going to end. There's nothing to do about it anyway. You waste of ton of energy and emotion on something that is inevitable.

Find something, every day, that makes you happy. Be thankful that you've been given that day, that hour, that minute. That moment of happiness. Because no matter what anyone may tell you, you still never know.


  1. Dear Amber,

    When Denise died, my husband told our son Nathan, that "if God needed an angel, He picked the perfect person."

    It's true. Your friends, your family, little Caylee Anthony, the Herrera children, Denise... are all angels now.

    I've always thought of my loved ones, who have gone before me, as my "guardian angels" but lately I've been so angry it's tough to think that way.

    I still believe it though.

    Just thought I'd share my thoughts.

    God bless you on your journey. And thank you for thinking of Denise.

    Peggy Lee

  2. Ma'am,

    I cannot imagine going through what you and your family are living. You have, not just my sympathy, but my utmost respect, all of you.

    I pass the little memorial on Toledo Blade for Denise daily, and I think of her, and remember her, and most especially her family in my prayers constantly. I don't know your family, and I never knew her, but I am awed by her courage. And the strength of the family that she left behind.

    I pray that the knowledge that she is with God will bring all of you some comfort, and strength through this time, and all the time to come.

  3. Thank you. The community has been so phenomenally supportive. Everyone. We feeled blessed in so many ways.

    I have to blogs you may want to visit. One is about Denise and some of the things that have happened. Read the December blogs. I have a couple of posts on there that tell the whole story.


    The other is about homicide grief and it's a hard read. I'm trying to write it for other homicide survivors.

    I'll warn you. You may not like reading them. They are full of disturbing thoughts about faith etc... The blogs are like roller coasters.

    If you're from this area and you ever see me at the park or a fundraiser, please, introduce yourself. Just say I'm Amber from blog. I'd love to meet you.

    And, yes, Denise (okay I'm starting to cry) was I honestly believe was a martyr for her chldren and a saint to have found the strength she did. And look how it affected the community!

    God bless........



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