family, obits, tragedies

April brings new life… and for some, the end of life.

Happy Easter, everybody. We have gorgeous spring weather so far today. I don’t plan to do much, since everything is closed, anyway. For a country with so many atheists, Germany sure does go nuts over religious holidays. Everything closes over Easter, from Good Friday until Easter Monday, although things are open on the intervening Saturday. This year, I didn’t plan ahead well enough. We ran out of dog food for Arran and contact lenses for me, after tomorrow. Fortunately, the stuff we need will probably be here on Tuesday. I hope I managed to sock away an extra pair of contacts in my luggage so I will be able to see before the delivery gets here. I wish I’d had my eyes lasered years ago.

Historically, for me, anyway, April tends to be a “cruel” month, even though it’s also usually very beautiful. So far, this year, April has been punctuated by grief… not necessarily for me, personally, but for people I know or am related to.

It started with a guy I knew in high school. I had a lot of classes with him, but we didn’t run in the same circles. I never knew until I read his obituary that he taught special education at our high school for some time. He eventually left that job, but then had brain cancer. That’s what killed him on March 31st, just a couple of weeks after his 50th birthday. On April 1st, a lot of people were posting about him on Facebook, writing about what a kind person he was. That made me wish I’d known him better, but he was more popular than I was, and people in my high school mostly thought of me as a weird person. So the cute, popular guys never talked to me. I’m probably less weird now… or, maybe they admit that they’re weird, too.

The next person to go was my cousin’s lovely wife. My cousin and his wife were married in 1984, when I was 12 years old. I wasn’t at the wedding, because it took place in Georgia, and I lived in Virginia. My cousin and his wife were a beautiful couple, but very religious and politically conservative, as are most of my Georgia based relatives (and I have quite a few). I was briefly among the Georgia folks myself, but we had to move to North Carolina after about 18 months of living there. I was sad to go. I enjoyed Georgia.

My cousin and his wife had three gorgeous daughters who are the epitome of “southern belles”. They’re a very close-knit family. When my cousin’s wife was diagnosed with cancer last spring, and the cancer then spread to her brain, the whole family got t-shirts made and wore them to support her before she went into surgery. They took pictures wearing the t-shirts and holding up signs with Bible verses and slogans. We heard that she had done fairly well with the surgery. Then, there was not much news at all.

I was a little surprised to read that she had passed away last week, since I hadn’t known that her illness had progressed so much. I mean, I know something about chronic illnesses such as cancer, and when I heard about her initial diagnosis, I figured she might not have much time. But her daughters appeared to be having the time of their lives, which is what I’m sure she wanted for them. My cousin’s eldest daughter posted a gender reveal video for the baby she’s expecting. Then, she announced her mother’s death. I didn’t know she was so ill, so I didn’t know she was near death. Last week’s news of her death came as a shock to me.

I knew her middle daughter planned to get married on April 16th. That daughter shared a photo of her hand holding her mother’s hand. I could only see the hand in the photo, but it was pretty obvious just from that photo of her hand that my cousin’s wife was very, very sick. Her skin was yellow and mottled with purplish red splotches, even around her fingernails, which were lined with the same red. I guess it was bruising of some kind.

She was a very beautiful woman who was much beloved by family and friends. She was also very religious and had strong faith in Christianity. Although I am nowhere near as religious as she was, I like to think of her joining those who went before her, to include my aunt and uncle, and my cousin, who was her sister-in-law, as well as all of the other people who were in her life I never knew. I’m sorry she had to miss her daughter’s wedding yesterday, but her daughter did say she thought her mom would have the best view… I hope she’s right. It looks like her daughter had a beautiful wedding, at least.

And finally, the third death was that of one of Bill’s friends from high school. I never met this man myself, but Bill has talked about him throughout our almost twenty years of marriage. Bill was kind of a shy introverted type when he was a teenager, and he went to a public high school in Houston where there were a lot of wealthy kids. Bill wasn’t wealthy, but he did have an interest in the military. He joined JROTC and made some friends, which unfortunately included his ex wife. But one of the guys he met was a guy named Mark who was a year older than he was. Mark was kind to Bill. He had a great sense of humor and a talent for art. Bill really liked him a lot, especially in the days when he wasn’t very confident about himself.

The years passed, and Bill lost touch with his friend… but then along came Facebook, and Bill reconnected with him. They didn’t communicate much on Facebook, mainly because Bill barely uses it and never posts. One of Bill’s other classmates, a guy who friended me for some reason, announced Mark’s sudden death yesterday. Apparently, Mark, who was divorced, had no children, and had recently lost his father (his mom died many years ago), decided to commit suicide on Good Friday.

Mark’s Facebook posts left no indication whatsoever that he was planning to kill himself. On Friday, he just posted “Guys, it’s been a slice”, accompanied by a collage with pictures of him at different stages of life. I told Bill that his high school friend had announced Mark’s death. Bill looked him up and read all of the posts by people who were devastated by Mark’s decision. So many people asked why he hadn’t reached out to them for help. A couple of people wrote that there was nothing they could have done… which is probably true in a case like this. Mark never left a clue of what he was planning. Unfortunately, it sounds like people will always wonder what drove him to make this decision, although a lot of people knew he had “demons”. But then, don’t we all?

It seems unconscionable that in this season of renewal– with flowers blooming and babies being born– some people have died before their time. All three of these people, who touched my life before they passed, were folks who might have been considered too young to die. While all three deaths could be considered very sad and tragic, I am especially sad for Mark. The other two had family with them when they passed, but Mark apparently died alone, and probably violently. As awful as it is for him, it’s even worse for whoever had to find him and whoever will be cleaning up the aftermath of Mark’s decision. I don’t know the exact method he used to kill himself, but he did own quite a few firearms. Bill told me that he owned some Russian pistols that he highly prized. So, it’s likely that one of his guns was the tool he used to end his life “on his terms”, as one of his friends put it.

I try not to look at suicide as a moral failing. I see it as more of a fatal response to depression, which is a real illness. Depression can be deadly. Maybe Mark could have been helped if he had reached out for help, but there really is no way to tell. And, in fact, there may have been something else going on that we didn’t know about… and will never know of. At least it looks like he had some good times during his last week. Many friends wrote about how they saw him this week. I wonder if Mark thought about how they would feel after he died… having spent time with him having lunch or drinking beer… and then finding out that he was planning to kill himself.

I didn’t know Mark, but I was there last night as Bill teared up over the news of his death. It just goes to show that everyone affects other people… even people they’ve never met in person. But as someone who has experienced depression and has felt suicidal, I understand that things might have seemed hopeless and pointless, and maybe he felt helpless to change anything. And one more talk with a friend or a doctor might have felt futile. So he made a decision that impacted a lot of people he never even knew.

This morning, Bill told me that he used to envy his friends. At one time, their lives seemed better than his was. I asked him what he thought of that notion today. He said, “I prefer my life.” I’m glad to hear that, especially since younger daughter shared an adorable video of her little daughter yesterday. What a blessing it is that Bill can get to know his grandchildren, even if it is just on video. Seeing her so happy and energetic gives me hope for the future. I’m glad I can be part of Bill’s future, especially as he awaits the birth of his second grandson in a couple of months.

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2 thoughts on “April brings new life… and for some, the end of life.

  1. That is a very tragic story. My heartfelt condolences to Bill. April is the cruelest month. My mom passed away from cancer, fairly young at 56, on April 9 some years ago. I certainly agree that suicide is not a moral failing. It’s unbearable emotional suffering and your mind failing you.

    • It’s easy to see from Mark’s Facebook page that he was very much beloved by many people. I don’t know what led him to take his own life, but he is definitely going to be missed by people whose lives he touched.

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