The Last Enemy

Warning: The following post is presented without humor. Really.

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” – J.K.Rowling, written on James and Lily Potter’s tombstone.

I was first exposed to death at an early age. My great aunt Nelly had been in our lives forever, but her new husband George had not. When he died suddenly, I knew we were supposed to feel bad but I didn’t. Not really.

Fast forward to my early teens, and two of my friends’ fathers died after long illnesses. I knew them a bit better, and I did feel badly about them, but it still didn’t quite hit me yet.

No, the first time death really hit me was probably August 2, 1979. I was a rabid Yankees fan, reveling over the 3 pennants and two World Series they’d won over the past three years. I followed them religiously, and loved each and every one of them. Which is why the news that Thurman Munson crashed his plane and burned to death hit me like a ton of bricks.

Like the people closest to you, your sports heroes aren’t supposed to be mortal. Not in the prime of their lives, certainly. I was devastated, because finally death had a real and personal meaning. And it would return to remind me in the coming years.

I returned home one Sunday morning from my girlfriend’s house, and accompanied my mom into our apartment. We found my dad laying on the bed in his room, unmoving. It was my first face-to-face with death, and that one hit me hard. We’d always had a strained relationship, and I’d felt I’d disappointment him. I’ll never know if I was mistaken or not.

We took a trip to Vancouver in 1979 to discover first hand the wealth of relatives we had there. I met my grandmother for the first time, and saw much of my own mother in her. A few years later we received word that grandma was ill, and that my mom should come quickly. I volunteered to accompany her, and tried my best to keep her distracted on the long flight. Her sisters met her at the airport, the devastating news written plainly on their faces.

More years, more death. My Aunt Nelly, our newborn, my nephew, my mom, my stepdad, both my in-laws, uncles and aunts, friends. Death and more death. It adds up, and not in a good way.

We mourn for those who pass, but really we’re mourning ourselves. We mourn our losses, the empty places no longer filled, the conversations and companionships we’ll no longer have.

Why so maudlin, you may ask? You might think it silly, but my sister’s dog died last week. “It’s just a dog,” you might scoff; indeed, I’m sure I’ve said that very thing once or twice in the past. What got me thinking, though, is what that death means. It means a huge hole in my sister’s house. It means my brother-in-law has lost his best friend. It means a niece and nephew who’ve lost a piece of their innocence. It means that, once more, death has returned to remind us not to forget him.

It means that we should embrace life, friends, and family while we can.

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