My encounters with death started when I was lying in the hospital at nine years old about to have surgery to save my life. A cement pillar fell on my foot while I was sitting at a bus stop. My grandmother explained to me that four of my toes and some of my foot had been completely crushed as a result of an accident I was in. She told me that I had an infection and that for the past month they were unable to rid my body of the infection. In order to stop the infection, they will have to amputate my big toe and some of my foot. The infection could spread throughout my body and they would either have to amputate more or it would spread so far that it would kill me. It is a miracle in itself that I survived because I was sitting next to the pillar and it should have landed on my head. The thought of dying at nine creeps into mind often. At nine, I thought the whole world consisted of Rhode Island. I thought I would spend my whole life living on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island and only visiting other parts to see family members. It was soul crushing (sometimes it still IS) to think about I could have died. I did not know how I would go on. I would never be the same. After months of physical and emotional therapy, I learned how to walk and function again. But the physical and emotional scars will always be there.
From a young age, I had an interesting relationship with death. It seems to always not be too far away to remind me of my mortality. That there was no Lazarus Pit for me.
I was in Ft. Lauderdale when my mother called me on a warm November evening. She told me my Uncle David was in a hospice, that he would not make it through the night. I told my Uncle I loved him and I thanked him for taking in a stray kid with a lot of energy and no direction and pointing me to where I needed to go. While those were the last words I spoke to him, we had our last words the August before. He told me of his soon to come death. He was unsure when, but knew it going to be sooner than later. We talked about how he wanted it to be. Where he wanted his belongings to go. We made our favorite dish, chicken pot pie (my mom now makes it every time I am in Providence). We talked about how he was satisfied with his life. He lived long enough to see me as a college graduate. We played our favorite game, chess, a game we played often and a game that he used to teach me so many life lessons. A lesson that sticks out to me is to always have multiple ways of getting the result. The result is to capture the king, but sometimes when plan A does not work, you need to have back up plan. He taught me I needed to be able to respond to every movement, that I needed to be able think 20 steps ahead but also have 10 different plans for those 20 steps. Through it all he taught to never give up no matter what you are given you must find a way to work with it.
My biggest regret in life is that I was not there when my uncle died. I am 100% sure that my mom and him made some kind of deal to not tell me until it was clear that he was going to pass. He knew that I would drop everything and head to his side. I would not let the same thing happen.
I received the phone call my grandfather was dying late one night. He was in the hospital and had a few days left. I had to go see him. I drove the 12 hours from Jefferson City, MO to Athens, GA the next day. When I made it to the hospital he was in and out of sleep. When I was able to get a moment of alertness, I thanked him for helping me out when I really needed it. During grad school, he was always there with a timely prayer or anything else that I needed. As a Vietnam vet, he was a natural fighter. He was sent home to spend his last days. They gave us pain reliever medicine and other medicine to make him as comfortable as possible.
Coincidentally (or maybe not) watching my grandfather pass reminded me of my son being born. The rushing to get to the hospital, the large gathering of people. Everyone crying around someone who is on their way out, my son crying as he enters the world. My grandfather fighting for his last breath as my son struggles to take his first breath. Both parties entering the unknown. One at the end of his cycle and the other at the beginning of his cycle.