How We Deal With Death When it is Least Expected

When people close to us are taken without expectation, how we deal with our grief depends on how we view life.

It seems like there has been an unusual number of incidences in the news lately about people dying while at sporting events or entertainment venues.

In just the last week we’ve had the Iraq veteran leg amputee James Thomas Hackemer, 29, who was ejected from the Ride of Steel roller coaster at the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort in upstate New York.  About a week before this there was 39-year-old Shannon Stone, the firefighter from Brownswood, Texas who fell 20 feet to his death as he was trying to catch a ball tossed to him by outfielder Josh Hamilton, his 6-year-old son’s favorite Ranger.

In early June, an 11-year-old girl on a class trip to Morey’s Mariner’s Landing Pier in Wildwood, N.J., fell about 150 feet from near the top of a Ferris wheel and was killed.  About a week later on the other side of the world at Kavakli amusement park near Istanbul, Turkey, an 18-year-old girl was killed after falling 30-40 feet from an amusement ride called Discovery. which tracks such incidences at theme parks noted that there were 55 occurrences of injuries or fatalities on their website for 2010 alone.

Some of these are pretty gruesome, like the 27-year-old woman who was strangled to death after her cultural hajib head dress became tangled in a go-kart axle at high-speed at Port Stephen’s Go-Kart track in Sydney, Australia.

Most all of these occurred with younger people; some as young as 5 years old while the oldest were usually in their 30’s.  Too young to die such agonizing and quick deaths, leaving parents and young spouses behind to deal with this trauma.  But at 62, I tend to look at such human suffering philosophically.

Chuch Palahniuk, a freelance writer, satarist and author of The Fight Club is quoted as saying that “The best way to waste your life … is by taking notes.  The easiest way to avoid living is … to report.  Don’t participate”.  Life is about being involved and active everyday, some more than others.  There is no real life where there is no joy and for those over-cautious souls unwilling to participate in the human experience, there will always be something missing that cannot be found as a voyeur.

This is not to encourage reckless behavior without forethought.  Some of the greatest adventurers planned their strategy and prepared themselves with proper equipment to avoid the dangerous risks they were bound to face.  But even knowing that there were risk, the excitement of taking that risk was itself exhilarating and the thought of achieving what few have or will is itself rewarding and life affirming.

The ability for a father to convey to friends and family back home that he caught a pitch for his son from their favorite baseball player or the Iraqi vet that felt a thrill he hadn’t since losing limbs in the arena of war would have been a treasure to keep had fate not cut their future short.  The experience, even for the moment, was something that was timeless and seldom enjoyed.  A short life tragically ended but full of joy from living it is to be valued more than longevity where fear and age prevent creating memorable moments.

In Tennyson’s poem we are reminded that love of life and all that that entails is to be our greatest goal and our greatest reward:


I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it, when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all


We wake up each day for the most part never thinking it will be our last and are hardly prepared for it when it occurs at events that we envision will bring us joy.  But to die while doing something thrilling is hands down better than to wither away in an infirm state being kept alive by artificial means.

The loss of life in the flash of a moment, even from circumstances we created for ourselves, leaves grief behind for those who remain but allows those who lose their life under such conditions to cheat the slow painful death of age, perhaps providing a certain amount of solace for loved ones who will remember them the rest of their lives.

The memories of lost ones are brightest when they do not encompass agonizing slow death in a hospital bed are in home respite.  To watch as those we love wither away while they are fed by a tube, have their clothes changed as a result of uncontrollable bowels or gaze into their eyes as if we were strangers to them has to hurt more and for much longer than the instant end occurring at a very young age.

Death claims us all and to feel that we can avoid it longer if we just play it safe is unrealistic.  But worse, consumed with such a notion can rob us of fulfilling that life we are all afforded if we but try.   Greater I think is the remorse of those who think upon the loss of the loved who had nothing to show for their long life than the remorse of one that envisions the memory of a close friend or loved one who will remain eternally young and vibrant in our thought over the years.


4 responses to “How We Deal With Death When it is Least Expected

  1. Such an insightful and poignant post. I know it is cliche to say, but these people left this earth doing something they loved to do. They all embraced life and although their lives ended far too soon, they did not live a life dictated by fear and that is a great accomplishment.

  2. Great post Larry……death is an interesting subject and with many many ways of grief…..I opinion is like yours grieve but do not allow it to become all encompassing….it is always a difficult time……

  3. Greater I think is the remorse of those who think upon the loss of the loved who had nothing to show for their long life than the remorse of one that envisions the memory of a close friend or loved one who will remain eternally young and vibrant in our thought over the years.

    This was spot on. I loved this post. I lost a former coworker a few weeks ago. He had a stroke at 43 y/o. He was nice, funny, and full of life. I’ll make it a point to remember him that way whenever he pops into my head. 🙂

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