Tuesday, November 12, 2013

too young to die

i don't keep in touch with many from my old high school class - it's been nearly 30 years since we graduated and i've quite literally drifted far, far away from them. but i'm friends with at least one classmate on facebook. late last week, she let me know that another of our classmates had serious cancer and wasn't expected to live much longer. it was just a few days later that i learned that he had died on saturday. i hadn't thought of him in years and he wasn't someone that i'd say i knew very well, despite being only 36 people in our graduating class.

when i was a kid, we had lived in the same neighborhood and biked around in a pack as kids do. but my main memory of that is that i argued with him that i was older than him because my birthday was in march and his was in may, not realizing he was a year old than i was. but it was because we were in the same class, so i assumed we must be the same age. odd that i clearly remember that silly argument after all these years.

i don't know what became of him after high school, what he studied, what he decided to be when he grew up, who he married, whether he had children, if he was happy. but i find myself thinking about him now that i know he is gone. 47 is far too young to die. i've since learned he had a very aggressive and rare neuroendocrine cancer. although i'd lost touch, it makes me feel sad to think that someone (nearly) my age, is already gone. how much more did he have to do? how old are his kids? now he won't see them grow up and become who they will become.

he still lived in south dakota, about an hour from where we grew up. and on sunday, the community pulled together and held a benefit auction for his family, since they are facing a whole heap of medical bills. i imagine when they planned it, they didn't expect that he would die the day before the event. those organizing the event shared it on a facebook page. all kinds of people and businesses in his community donated items to be auctioned for his benefit and to scroll through the timeline, looking at them is somehow comforting. it was clear that he was well-liked and respected and loved by people around him and by his community. and although i hardly knew him, it brings a little tear to my eyes to see how they rallied around him and his family.

it also gives me pause, because you don't see such things here in denmark, where a community rallies around someone who is ill and comes together to help. mostly because we have universal health care and there wouldn't be any big medical bills piling up around someone who was seriously ill. but i also think that we miss out on a feeling of community spirit that such events bring. there are times when i admit i miss that sense of community here in denmark and when i feel that the society is poorer and more selfish without it.

i suppose like any death, it makes us confront our own mortality and that's what's really giving me pause - someone my own age dying brings it a little closer to home. now don't get me wrong, i don't go around fearing death like a cloud hanging over me. but it does make me think that i should probably do a little bit better with the time i have, because you never know.


Veronica Roth said...

You know when I say I wouldn't want to be an American, not entirely true. That is the one thing I love about America; that sense of belonging and being accepted by one's community.

will said...

The rallying around part is both real ... and not. Aging and dying in America is, often as not, done in silence and by one's self. Hopefully it can be done with a modicum of comfort... but that's not guaranteed.

Decades ago I worked in was euphemistically termed a "convalescence" hospital... in truth, it was a place where families put an old and sick family member to die. Most of the patients had few or no visitors. I assumed the subsequent funeral was a few hours of time when the surviving family did their public grief. But, for the dying person, it was basically out of sight, out of mind.

will said...

Asuming you're not run over by a pretentious Midwestern pretend poet, exactly how many years would you like to live?

julochka said...

bill, that's an interesting question. i think i'd like to see what my child will be when she grows up and then i'm cool with not being around anymore. i also feel a bit like i haven't done much of anything with my life and would like a chance to do something. if only i knew what it was...

Sammi said...

that is sad. it's awful when people die that way, and so young, but i guess it shows that we're all made up differently and sometimes nature turns a different way.

a friend of mine has cancer, also incredibly rare peripheral t-zone lymphoma. she's 20 years old, and so bloody brave. she's in hospital right now having some seriously strong chemo treatment, and then they're going to regrow some stem cells in the new year. she is beating it, and we can only pray that she will be okay. and you'd never know to look at her. she's a hairdresser & it terrified her, losing her hair, so our village got together to raise some funds to buy her a wig- she knew what she wanted and it cost £700. We raised just over £2,000 & another pub where her mother lives raised another £1,700. The extra money was donated to the ward that she is staying on. It puts your whole world into perspective. Some days she suffers, and she tells us (the chemo was so strong that in the first week she was in isolation it burst a blood vessel in her nasal cavity & caused heavy nosebleeds) but then she is so brave and strong. I don't know how she does it.