HOW DEATH AFFECTS THE LIVING[BY G. RUSSELL MCCARTY]
It snowed this morning. The blanket of white that greeted me was an unexpected shock as I peered through the kitchen window while waiting for my toast to brown. Spring should have arrived already, yet the icy weather was a reminder that we are not in control. It’s a lesson that sadly, we never seem to quite get used to learning.
In West Alexandria, Ohio, this morning, in a house not unlike mine, Jody Naudascher also woke. She likely shuffled down the hall and into the room where her daughter Brittanie should have been yawning, stretching, and asking for five more minutes of sleep. But, like each of the 22 days before, little Brittanie, the darling of her cheerleading squad and her parents’ hearts, wasn’t there. She was the victim of a tragic accident while attending a professional hockey game with her father less than a week shy of her 14th birthday. A puck flew into the crowd, struck her in the head, and she died. The game was an early present for a girl who never lived to see her second year as a teenager.
Although I never met Brittanie Cecil, and I’ve never been to Columbus, Ohio, I cannot begin to express the grief that wells up inside my heart whenever I see the school photograph of the little teenager, on the cusp of adolescence, her blonde hair pulled back into a ribbon, and her blue eyes sparkling at the prospect of all those summer pool parties, those early-fall hayrides, her prom, her high school graduation with the cap and gown sailing high into a sky as wide and full as her hopes and dreams. It isn’t as much for Brittanie that I mourn, but it is the loss of innocence.
There was so much life left to be lived in this little teenager. There is so much we do not understand. I am struck by how, despite the fact life is full of so many things that crowd our thoughts and compete for our attention, all it takes is one death, one voice silenced forever, to cause it all to go to slow motion, as I again am brought to silence at the fragility of it all. It can all end so quickly, and without warning. It all started so normally for Brittanie. Two tickets to a hockey game. The chance for some quality time with her father David. Maybe a plate of nachos, a hot dog or a souvenir pennant to place above her bed. But it ended so brutally. All the rhetoric or explanations can never take away the fact one who was alive is gone.
Death has a way of doing that to us. With every memorial service we attend, the focus is always on those who have died. What are they doing? Are they happy? Are they peaceful? Too often, we involve our thoughts with those who have passed on, when inside we are crumbling. There must be a healing space, the time when we pay attention to what the loss of life is doing to us, the living.
I’ve never really experienced the death of someone close to me. Two grandparents, an uncle, and a beloved family dog. Nothing really has been taken from me, but I still believe when my father, my mother, my brother, when any of these are taken from me, I will still not be able to determine a reason why.
And this is the eternal question, the one we will always ask, and the one David and Jody must be asking even in this moment. Why?
“Death and taxes,” it is always said,” are the only two sure things.” I haven’t done my taxes yet, but I’m pretty sure that if I let them slide, the consequences won’t be as dire. Death is the great constant, the one thing that has the ability to render all of our strivings, our efforts for attention and personal gain, completely insignificant. And for those of us who remain on the earth, the reality of death seeps into our bones too. Death is all around us. Every day that we live, we are haunted by the fact one day, we too will die. It is a breath of icy wind which cuts to the heart. A spring snowstorm, out of place and unexplained.
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