She’s about a year old, giggling and happy and surrounded by toys. Her father lies beside her on the rug .He’s been carrying a camera around for a while now, she’s expected to start walking soon. Suddenly, it happens. She gets up on her feet and stumbles forward a few steps. Her father is ecstatic, he’s started filming and shouts for her mom. She’s sitting on the floor in seconds , but to her dad, it was everything.
Years have passed, she’s grown now, in the 6th grade. Her father is filming her finishing breakfast, off to another day of school. She smiles at him, resignedly . He tends to make big productions of small moments in her life, but she doesn’t mind. She know it’s because he loves her and she loves him too.
She’s 16 and she’s worried about boys.. She and her dad are watching a late night movie, and she has her head on his lap. She’s been quiet for a while and he’s about to say something, when, “Dad, what if he doesn’t love me”…. It takes him a bit to recall their earlier conversation. He lifts her up by her shoulders, and makes her look right at him. (he has his serious dad-face)… “Honey, everyone will love you”. He means it, and she believes him.
It’s two years later, and it’s prom night. She’s coming down the stairs, all dressed up and grinning. Her dad is at the bottom of the stairs, camera ready and smiling back. She and her date pose for pictures, and she’s never been happier. She’s been looking forward to this day for a long time and forgets to hug her dad goodbye. She’s nearly out the door when she remembers, runs back to him and gets swallowed up in a hug…. “I know, honey”, he whispers, “have fun tonight”.
Prom is over and they’re at the dining having chocolate milk. Her dad had stayed up for her, she’d expected this and is glad. She wanted someone to unwind with. He’s laughing at a joke she made when she asks, “Dad, would you have preferred a boy?”… She’s not really serious, but it had occurred to her a few times before… “What? No, honey. Why would you think that?”… She shrugs and is about to reply when there’s noise outside. The neighbors are arguing and her dad’s saying something about drugs when they both hear shots.
Her dad rushes to the floor immediately and shouts for her to do the same. More shots are fired, but he’s distracted by the fact that she hadn’t bent to safety. He gets up a bit, ready to scold her to move away from the windows, but the words die on his lips.
She’s clutching at the side of her neck and there’s blood. Blood? What’s..what’ going on? He rushes to her, and she falls into him. They’re on the floor and she’s bleeding. He’s shouting for her mom to call 911!
She’s gasping, trying to speak. He’s crying and clutching her to his chest. He knows. He’s not ready to accept it yet, but he knows.
She dies before the ambulance gets there.
I recently took up watching The Good Wife. It’s a law drama, and is pretty interesting. The story from the opening scene of one of the episodes (I added inflections and thought-motivations from what I read off the characters). When the female character got shot, I ‘reacted’, which is code for : paused the video, screamed, and rambled off this tirade to my roommate about the suddenness of death, and the unbelievable grief of a parent.
A little extreme? maybe. But I think that’s what the director of the episode (James Whitmore Jr) intended. The previous scenes drew me, the viewer, in. I watched pivotal moments of her life, got invested. There’s the nagging sense of premonition, and while I don’t ignore it, I refuse to give it credence. So, her death comes as a shock to me. And it made me think.
Death. The inevitable end to everyone’s story. A parent’s grief at the loss of a child. How quickly it seems to end. One moment, you’re living your life (warts and all), and the next you’re taking in your last breathe or holding a loved one in your arms while they bleed away.
Sometimes, it’s expected : a chronic disease that comes with pain, but allows time for goodbyes. And others, it’s sudden : a car accident, a nasty trip, food poisoning, a burst aneurysm, gun shot… There are a lot of ways loved ones are lost, everyday.
There’s a friend of mine that is disturbed by how easily I bring up the subject of death. We had a discussion where she pointed out I made about ten jokes that day, that somehow involved something dying. I’m still not sure if she was exaggerating. I agreed not to speak of it again, around her, to preserve our friendship. I disagreed ,however, with her assumption that I either felt casual about death or was obsessed with it.
It’s not a subject that’s brought up often, and when it is, it’s with a fearful tone . It’s discussed at funerals, near-death experiences and, perhaps, with depressed individuals with suicidal tendencies. But nearly ignored, in moments when a conversation with more perspective might be had.
I think of death during autumn, when the leaves turn and fall to the ground. I think of death in the stillness of winter, trees stark and bare against the sky. I think of the new leaves that replace the old during spring. The rains that fall and replenish the earth, turning everything green again.
I think of my papa dying when I was 13. The realization that the person I stared at in the open casket wasn’t him. I think of the little boy in my street that turned up dead in a neighbor’s drainage system and how it was never explained. I remember not being able to stop crying because it didn’t make any sense.
We don’t all get to choose how we die, but we can breed a culture wherein, it’s discussed with an open mind free from fear or bias, independent of one’s religions or absence thereof.