Thoughts on Life and Loss

“Mourners Chair” photo © 2008 Brandi Sims CC BY 2.0

I’m preempting my usual “Friday Fun” column, because this past week was a crappy week, crappy enough to justify a little mourning.

Tuesday afternoon, as you know, a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti, killing tens of thousands—maybe even 100,000. That number represents one out of every 95-or-so people in that small country.

Shortly thereafter, we received news of the passing of my mother-in-law.

Shorty after that, a friend received news of the passing of his grandfather.

(This series of events also explains why I haven’t been blogging this week.)

So instead of my usual humorous, lighthearted Friday sketch, today I’d like to talk about some of the thoughts that have occurred to me this week.

Times like this always remind me of the M*A*S*H episode, “Death Takes a Holiday,” and how precious and fragile life is.

In the midst of the Christmas truce, a soldier is brought in, near death, a victim of a sniper. BJ, Hawkeye, and Margaret Houlihan take on the hopeless case, knowing they can’t save his life. On BJ’s insistence, however, they begin the gargantuan task of extending it, only until after midnight, until December 26, because the man has kids, and they shouldn’t have to remember Christmas as the day their daddy died.

Eventually, of course, despite their heroic efforts, the man’s body can’t hold onto life any longer.

And that’s that.

“It never fails to astonish me,” Margaret says. “You’re alive; you’re dead. No drums, no flashing lights, no fanfare… You’re just dead.”

I’ve been renting Star Trek: The Next Generation from NetFlix and re-watching this much-loved series.

For many years, I considered Star Trek a guilty pleasure. I no longer do, because many of its episodes meet my criteria for life-expanding stories.

One of my favorite episodes is “The Inner Light,” a fifth-season episode in which an alien probe from a long-dead world reaches out to Picard with a mind-control beam. Picard finds himself living out his life on that long-dead planet, marrying, raising children, meeting his grandchildren, and seeing that world’s ultimate destruction.

At one point, his daughter Meribor tells him of a young man who has been courting her. She wonders whether she should continue to pursue her research of the impending planetary cataclysm, or whether she should instead pursue a relationship with this young man.

He looks soberly into her eyes. “Seize the time, Meribor,” he says. “Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

There was a time in my life when I refused to dress up in a suit and tie. Back before I cared how I looked, suits were stodgy, and ties cut off my oxygen. Give me a ripped T-shirt and an old pair of jeans, and that was good enough.

Eventually, I discovered the wonderful creativity of expression that is part of fashion, and I even began to envy the fairer sex— They have so many more fashion choices than we men. We can choose brown or black shoes, can layer a shirt with a jacket or sweater, can wear a tie, maybe a watch. But they have access to an almost unlimited selection of colors, cuts, styles, and accessories, an almost unlimited palette of self-expression.

But before my fashion transformation, I loathed to gussy myself up, even for weddings. I thought, they could either except me the way I was, or they could refuse to invite me to their party. No skin off my nose, either way.

The only exception was a funeral. Somehow, it seemed fitting that after a friend had met with such a loss, that I should do whatever was in my power to make him feel supported, even if it meant dressing up in uncomfortable clothes that didn’t even look like me.

“Friday Fun” will return next week, and maybe that’s the biggest thought. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. But it always passes. It must pass, because we must continue living. The alternative is depression and stagnation.

And so, to rip off Jim “Suldog” Sullivan

Soon, with more better stuff.