The content of this post originally ran in 2013 as Off Topic: When It’s Your Time. As I look back at my Friday and the death of my staff member Sarah’s brother, I come back here because, well, I know just as much today as I did then…
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The Catholics (or Christians…actually most organized religion) want you to believe that dying is new life in a better place…paradise. I got differing viewpoints on this as a child. I was raised Catholic, but my father’s family is Pentecostal. They take different roads to His kingdom, but they all wind up with the same basic idea of Heaven. I could never understand why my paternal grandparents looked at death with pleasure. What I would come to learn is that devoted, pious Christians want to be reunited with the savior.
Over time, I’ve come to adopt a belief about life and death. I believe that when it’s your time, it’s your time. It’s pretty simple, really. When your number is called, it’s time to go.
It’s the only way I can rationalize deaths of people like Marty Manning, or the husband of my former boss. The latter was 45 years old. I didn’t know him well and lost touch with both he and his wife following the end of my tenure at Syracuse University. He welcomed me into his home on multiple occasions. I held his oldest child, fed him bottles and let him chew on my finger on more than one occasion. I wouldn’t confuse my relationship with him as anything more than friendly. It had been about 10 years since I spoke with him. Such was the nature of our paths.
I have to rationalize it like this because he was 45. From what I remember, he was an active person; certainly more physically active than me. Cardiovascular activity is supposed to keep the heart healthy, right? I don’t know about his other habits, but I don’t know how to explain how a physically active person has a (apparent) heart attack while mowing his lawn. In my primary line of work, we preach brain health and mentally stimulating exercises as a way to stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, yet I cannot explain how a doctor who retired to become a lawyer develops the disease.
I have to rationalize it because he left behind a wife and two kids, aged 14 and 11. I have to do this because, as I sit here and type this while half-listening to an episode of Top Gear, The Wife and The Kid are outside enjoying a sunshiny fall evening. A friend that I chatted with today told me that one of his greatest fears is dying and leaving his wife with his kids. Alone. Don’t think for a second that it doesn’t cross my mind. It happens to every man after they have kids. We’re The Fathers. We’re supposed to be immortal until our children get older. One of my former co-workers, drawing on his own experience, told me that the path does not get easier for the kids at this point. I look at my own sister, who lost her mother at 16 (I was 20) and how it knocked her off path for a few years and nod in approval.
I have to rationalize it because I have no other logical explanation. I do believe in a spirit…a higher power, but not the hierarchical, dogmatic hypocrisy of religious organization. I don’t know what happens when you die. I don’t know about the “paradise” that my grandparents talked about, or the better place that I heard about each Sunday morning. But I do believe that we all have an expiration date and something non-human applies that label to us.
And, when our time is up…it’s up.
It doesn’t make it any better or any less sad or anything of note, really.
But, it’s all I have.