The death of actress and national icon Betty White on New Year’s Eve 2021 has left many of us here in the United States shocked and despondent. White was just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday; an event which she and the rest of us looked forward to celebrating. Now she’s gone. Suddenly. None of us really saw this coming. How could this happen? Why? But none of us should be shocked.
Death doesn’t honor our designated times of order. My paternal grandfather once said that he respected death because it bears no prejudice. It takes who it wants when it wants. According to my father it was painful for him to admit even that much; as he had seen so many very young people and/or very good people suffer an untimely demise throughout his time on Earth. My grandfather died in 1969, and my father didn’t fully comprehend the meaning of what the old man had said until some years later.
Perhaps it’s easy for we older folks to have a more cynical if not sedate view of death. I’m at the point where I know I have more years behind than ahead of me. But currently I feel I’m surrounded by people enduring serious health struggles. A close friend is showing signs of Parkinson’s. Another friend is dealing with liver cancer. His doctors gave him less than a decade, unless he has a liver transplant. But his liver seems too badly damaged to qualify for a transplant. So he’s resigned himself to decluttering his life and reconnecting with people. One of my cousins who’s 10 years older suffered a heart attack in 2020 and is now battling kidney failure. The 40-something son of another long-time friend is still recovering from a catastrophic stroke he experienced about 2 years ago. He’s ensconced in a rehabilitation facility, but doesn’t appear to be making much progress – not according to his father. The latter says it seems his son doesn’t really want to cooperate with the therapists; as if – just a few years from age 50 – he’s decided he’s lived life to the fullest.
As a manic depressive in my past life, death often occupied more space in my mind than thoughts of the future. A typical artistic type, I experience the full range of emotions humanity possesses. But death haunts all of us throughout our lives. When I was in high school, a girl was killed when a train struck the car in which she was riding. Around that same time, lightning killed a boy walking home from school. Some years later, while working at a retail store, a teenage constituent was killed by a drunk driver, and another died in a car wreck. In the fall of 1992, I happened upon the obituary of a young man I’d known in grade school; he was 29. The following year a friend died of AIDS at the age of 31.
Looking at the myriad news events surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m always heartbroken at the sight of very young people returning home with damaged bodies and minds or in coffins. The epidemic of school shootings and deaths of those caught up in civil unrest is truly upsetting.
How is it these things are allowed to happen? Isn’t there supposed to be an all-loving, omnipotent deity who could prevent such horrors?
I’ve always wondered what life is like on “The Other Side”; whatever it’s supposed to be and wherever that is. I like to think all those I’ve known in decades past, including my parents and even my dogs, are safely enveloped in such realms; where (hopefully) they are happy and loved.
Back in 2012, I had a brief dream of an English and German instructor I had at a community college in suburban Dallas in the 1980s. She was a quirky, yet truly inspirational character. I hadn’t thought of her in years when I had that dream. I think it was a day or two later when I found her obituary in the newspaper. And I thought later that, perhaps, she flitted through my sleeping subconscious to say goodbye – for now.
Betty White’s “sudden” death saddened so many people. But she was 99! So she didn’t quite make it to her centennial birthday! She always vocalized how fortunate she was to have lived so long and to have so many people admire and love her. She had reached the end of her time in this world.
We all will at some point. As sad as it may be sometimes, it doesn’t really matter one’s age or condition at the moment of death. It just happens. We have to make our time as valuable and fulfilling as we can.