What can you say when a brother or a brother-in-law dies?
Someone younger than you. Full of exuberant love. A carpe-diem, take-charge-of-life kind of guy. A recovering addict, who spent a decade healing his family. But whose body didn’t heal. And, just when he had a great job, marriage, and infant grandchild, his body shut down suddenly.
I guess you say, “Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet.” That’s a Jewish teaching. Literally, the phrase means, “blessed is God, the true judge.” But to me it means, “I sure as heck don’t understand. Is there justice? God only knows!” So to speak.
Death is weird. That’s what my cousin Karin said at the funeral. She knows. A decade ago, her precious teenage daughter died in a freak accident.
But the rest of the world carries on. You can’t blame them. They have to earn a living. Feed babies. Pave roads. Fix broken traffic signals. Keep life going, that’s the mandate.
And so you — I mean I — try. I’ll concentrate and accomplish. It feels really good for 15 minutes. And then it doesn’t make sense anymore. But you — I mean I — try anyway.
See the photo of Lee? I call it a “soul print.” I imagine each of us has a few mental images of our true essence. This would be one of Lee’s. He loved the outdoors: camping, fishing, and boating. Back before we moved far away, when our kids and his were young, we took extended family vacations. Camping in the mountains. Swimming in the river. Building sand castles on the beach. Lee owned a restaurant back then. He bought extravagant amounts of food and led us all in cooking huge meals. Once, near South Carolina’s fleet of shrimp trawlers, he tried to teach me to de-vein shrimp. I had never even touched a shrimp before. Or since.
But I digress. Wasn’t I just philosophizing about death? How odd it is that life goes on? When death, really, is all around us?
Last week I was at the — dare I admit it — nail salon near my home. They have a TV screen showing Netflix films. Romantic comedies, mostly. But, that day, we watched Miracles from Heaven (2017). It’s a cheesy movie about a terminally ill girl. The first 100 minutes focus on the girl’s anxious mother. Scene after scene shows her terrible parenting skills. Because of her own stress, she can’t support her daughter. 100 minutes. We get it. But in the last ten minutes, the girl has a near death experience and wakes up healed. Mom is surprised but happy. Yet she has learned nothing about life, death, or parenting.
This is a terrible movie. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 41% rating. But, that day, aesthetics didn’t matter. A woman seated next to me was crying. “I hope the girl doesn’t die.” Another woman stood behind me. Her nails were finished but she could not stop watching. She too was crying. “I don’t know what I would do if I were that Mom,” she said.
Of course, I understood. These women love and lose, too. They, too, are shocked by freak accidents and untimely deaths. So, they need to think about this. They need to feel about it. But they rarely get a chance. Because the rest of the world carries on. So, they cried at a bad movie.
So what? Why should I be an art snob? Sometimes death is like a bad movie. Where there’s no logic to the main character’s life arc. They die before their story develops. And their family’s reactions are badly written. Because who, really, does understand what has happened?
Death is weird. Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet.