For some, death is a long, slow and heart-breaking journey. For others, it is an abrupt cessation of an active life.
My mom lived 3 years with lung cancer. Three long years of treatment and hope and uncertainty and sickness and diminished quality of life. I say “long” years but I wonder if Mom experienced them that way. Maybe those years went by quickly for her. I suspect, though, that she experienced it both ways: time went too fast and too slow simultaneously.
During her illness, I became closer to Mom than I had ever been. I felt her love more than I had any other time before. It was upsetting to see her sick, to know that she was going to miss out on so much from dying so young. Mom would not know her grandchildren. And even though I knew it was coming, when she did pass away, it was still a shock. It was still distressing and unbelievable. One minute she was alive and the next she wasn’t. One minute there was still some hope, some comfort, and the next only loneliness and grief. Mom’s story ended.
My son was very much alive. Dustin was healthy and enthusiastic and dynamic and energetic. Then he was dead. Deceased. Lifeless. Inanimate. “Gone.” In a split second. No warning. No buffer. No “getting used to the idea” ahead of time. And especially, no time to say good-bye.
For him, I am happy about that. No pain. No fear. No sadness. No regrets.
For me and for the others who love him, though, there is pain and sadness and regrets. And there are questions.
A bereavement group explained that a major difference between a slow, expected death like my mother’s and an unforeseen death such as Dustin’s is “the story.” With Mom, we knew the story of diagnosis and treatment and continuing illness and eventual death. With Dustin, bam! he just ceased to exist any longer. There was no story.
So the survivors struggle to create the story. In my case, I went to the site of the crash. I put my fingers in what remained of his blood on the road. I measured the distance between where he was hit and where he ended up. I photographed from one end to the other and from above as well. I drove the route he had ridden his bike that night. I drove the route the person who killed him drove. I read police reports. I read everything in the media or online that I could find. I talked to the medical examiner. I asked where he’d been and why. I picked up his belongings from police evidence and analyzed it all: the destroyed bike, the bloodied books, the scraped up but still working cell phone. I found out what I could about the person who killed him.
I’ve tried to piece together a coherent story, to make sense of the senseless. What happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? And why did it have to happen to him?
This post is the result of unexpectedly meeting a young man who had an experience that I desperately wanted to learn more about but was afraid to question. This young man was the first to see my son after someone else plowed into him and left him on the street, who testified before the grand jury and was instrumental in the decision to charge that driver with Manslaughter. We met and hugged and cried together. We exchanged phone numbers. Other than asking him if Dustin was dead when he first saw him (Yes! my most fervent desire), I managed to stifle all other questions. What I really wanted was to somehow get inside his mind and see what he saw and hear what he heard and feel what he felt so I would know more of the story. But I didn’t want to put him through that. Maybe I don’t really want to know, myself.
…No, I do. I do want to know.