Not long after the mine disaster in West Virginia, my friend Debra Harms-Kurth asked me to write something about that disaster in memory of those lost. In light of yesterdays tragedy at Virginia Tech, I hope this essay helps.
No Heavy Lifting
How We Deal With the Speeding Bullet
A friend recently asked me a few questions that were completely out of character for him.
He asked first if I ever thought about death, then he asked if I was afraid to die.
I thought before answering his questions because I wasn’t sure he was serious; until he urged me to answer him.
The answer to his first question went something like this. Yes, I do think about death, I said, but I don’t obsess over it. I know the time
will come for my life to end and though I don’t want to die right now, I’m aware that it could happen. So, yes I do think about death.
Am I afraid of death? Is that your question? “Yes” he said.
No! Death is like that speeding bullet that chases us from birth to the very end, and though I’m not out to cheat death, I am ready when it happens.
Now it’s my turn I said, why are you so interested in death?
He said that for the last few days he had been thinking about the deaths of so many people; the victims from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the miners in West Virginia and Kentucky and the countless others that had suffered from natural and unnatural disasters over the last year or two.
The thought occurred to me that my friend could be experiencing his vulnerability to that eventual speeding bullet.
Frank Roberts served the Oregon Legislature for a long time, he was regarded by both Republicans and Democrats to be a truly caring person, but one day bad news came his way. The doctor told him that he had terminal lung cancer…and yes, the speeding bullet was heading his way. He died in 1993 and that might be the end of Frank’s story but then his wife, Barbara, came into the picture.
Barbara Roberts was elected the first woman Governor of Oregon. She has achieved much over the years but her biggest accomplishment came when she and her husband decided how he was going to die.
This would lead her to write a book about her husband’s death and the treatment he would be provided. The book was titled “Death Without
Denial…Grief without Apology”
I first met Governor Roberts in 1995, not long after she left office. During this time we were volunteers at an HIV/AIDS care facility. Since then I have heard her speak on several occasions and most enjoyably I have interviewed her several times on the radio to talk about her book.
I bring all this up to simply suggest that buried deep in the mines where those men lost their lives; others lost in the waves of Tsunami’s, floods, earthquakes, fires and other forms of disasters large and small there are a myriad of stories yet to be told, and perhaps for us as writers facing the reality of our own death we can find the healing elements to be shared with the family members dealing with their significant losses.
I believe the miners thought about death; considering the great risk they took every day they went to work.
Were the miners afraid of death? That is a question which can only be answered by each man, woman and child that faces the relentless speeding bullet.
My answer remains the same, yes, I do think about death, especially when you consider how short our stay on this planet can be.
Am I afraid of death? I think what I fear is the unknown of how my story will end, not the ending itself.
In the grand scheme of things what does all this mean? I know the gun is cocked, the trigger is pulled and the speeding bullet is coming my way. Until the time of impact, may I write about the things I enjoy and will make this world a better place, and may I leave it in better condition than I found it...
My friend expressed his form of grief and I applaud his desire to search and decide the course of his life.
If you have lost someone, no matter whether it was through natural or unnatural circumstances it requires you to somehow document that person’s existence, lest they be forgotten. In so doing you become the help to lift the burden of heavy lifting.
May we remember those, whom we lost, may we rejoice in the gift of their presence, may we go on living our lives to the absolute maximum.