Posted by Garth on Friday, October 3, 2008

I haven't had much experience with death.  When I was really young (< 6) one of our poodles died.  Even though the rest of my family was crying about it, I distinctly remember not crying.  I also seem to believe that I understood what was going on (to the extent that a 5 or 6 year old can), and that he wasn't coming back.  But it didn't really phase me.  Eventually the rest died and I pretty much reacted the same way.

When I was 8 my hamster, Hammy, died.  I got home from school and took him out of his cage to play with him like I always did, but he was cold and hard.  I didn't know what that meant, so I put him back.  But it was a Friday night, and not just any Friday night.  I had been planning all week to go to Hiway Market and get Jetfire that night, so I quickly forgot about Hammy, even after my (mom/other mom/sister?) told me that he was dead (though I'm sure she sugar coated it in some way).

When I was, hmm... maybe 10(?) my friend's dad died.  I remember going over to his house with my mom and bringing them some food, and going to the funeral (though I don't remember any details of the funeral - just showing up in the parking lot).  I remember feeling bad for my friend, but not ever having known my own dad I couldn't really empathize.

Somewhere in there I think there were some fish that died and some Sea Monkeys.  The Sea Monkeys died because both my sister and I forgot to feed them.  For weeks.  But there was no real emotional attachment - just more of a finger-pointing "You killed them!", "No, you killed them!".

After that there seems to have been a lull, with the exception of Tippy, the best dog in the world.  I'm not sure I cried then either, but I definitely miss her.  More recently (i.e. within the last 10 years) my mom's mom died.  My mom was really upset, but I'd only met my grandma a few times so it didn't really affect me.  Even more recently than that my other mom's partner's mom died (is there a "grandma"-like word for that?).  Again, I'd only met her a few times, so it didn't really affect me.

When John Ritter died, I grieved.  Not in an over-emotional, funeral sort of way, but I definitely felt something.  Even as I type this I feel that I'm lowering the value of the deaths of everyone that I've actually known by comparing them to a Hollywood actor, but to me John Ritter (specfically Jack Tripper) was my first male role model.  So for completeness sake I have to include him.

The reason behind this post though is much more recent.  Yesterday my favorite uncle died.  He had cancer, and though it didn't come as a shock to anyone when it finally happened, I know that my aunt and cousins are taking it pretty hard.  When I was a kid I used to spend a fair bit of time each year with them, and I was pretty close to him.  He was really my first male role model that I knew (or that knew me as the case may be).  He taught me to fish and he taught me to shave.  He regaled me with stories of his youth and the bar fights he used to get into.  I really looked up to him.  I thought he was pretty much the coolest adult I knew.  He introduced me to Chicken Balls and all of the humor that surrounds a delicacy with such a name when you're a kid.  Filterless cigarettes.  Pepsi.  These are the things that I remember about him.  To this day I prefer Pepsi to Coke, and I'm sure his influence is part of that preference (though I do smoke my cigarettes with a filter).  The point being, when I was a kid I was really close to him.  But then, as I grew up and got more self absorbed (The Giving Tree anyone?) I lost touch.  My aunt would still send me Xmas and birthday cards, signing both of their names, but I never responded with even a thank you.  The last time I saw him was at my sister's wedding a few years ago, and he was in a wheel chair.  I had my own problems going on at the time and again, was fairly self absorbed, and didn't end up talking to him very much.  Also, I felt... uncomfortable, for lack of a better word.  This man, my favorite uncle, who used to take me fishing and tell me stories of breaking vacuum cleaners over people's heads (ok, he only told me one story like that, but as an impressionable young boy it made him super cool), was bound to a wheel chair.  I didn't know how to process it, so I chose to avoid it altogether.  And now, a few years later, he's dead.  I don't really want to get into the cliché "I never got to tell him how I felt".  And to be honest, I don't think I really gave it much thought in the last few years.  I felt the occasional pang of guilt about not being a better nephew, but in my warped sense of reasoning I felt that calling him because I feel guilty about not calling is no better than not calling.  Though now that I can't anymore, I think maybe I was wrong.  Having said that, I believe that the distance that I let grow between us over the course of my adult life has prevented me from being upset over this.  I know, it's an awful thing to say.  But it's what's in my head.

It seems that death has affected practically everyone around me, but never me directly.  And I'm not really sure why.  Is it just that the individual situations have never been close enough to me to cause me grief?  Or am I just ignorant?  Or am I too self absorbed for it to affect me?  Or does death really not phase me, since I don't really fear it myself (even though I'm not religious and believe that once we die we're worm food and nothing more)?  I'm not sure which one it is.  But suffice it to say that I've never had anyone really close to me die, and I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with it.  I'm 32 years old and have never experienced death first-hand.  To some extent, this concerns me, as there's no telling how I may react to it.  But then, maybe these 2nd and 3rd degree death experiences will have softened it for me and I'll react the same way.  I just don't know.

At any rate, let me finish this by saying that I miss the uncle I knew when I was a kid.  But I've probably missed that uncle (in the context of being that kid) since long before he died, I just never realized it.


Mom said...

Beautifully written, Garth.As I see it--you are dealing with death--in your own way. Maybe, that is what you might accept.

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