By Anne K. Kaler
So I sez to God, sez I, “God, you got it wrong.” No one younger than me is allowed to die because it seems to me to be against the natural order of things.
Like what happened to that old friend of mine, Ann (without an “e”) while I am always Anne (with an “e”). I knew she had been ill for some time, but I had to read about her death in the newspaper! How unfair is that! A complete surprise over my morning tea and an unfair start to a snowy morning! I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye after knowing her for all these years. I couldn’t even contribute to her obituary although I hope to attend her funeral.
So this will have to suffice as a reminder of what happens when some younger person dies.
Ann and I were best friends during our formative years in grade school. In the days before school buses, she’d walk to my house which was on the way to school and we’d tramp up the “five-mile-hill” on snowy days and fair ones. Then, after dismissal, we’d skip down the “five-mile-hill” past the park to my home to where warmth and snacks awaited us. Sitting in our kitchen and chatting to my mother or playing upstairs in my bedroom, Ann would stay until her mother got off work at Woolworth’s candy counter downtown. For a few hours it was as if I had a sister.
On fine days, we’d dally in the municipal park, feed the deer in their pen built onto the town garage, cheer the goldfish circling the dancing water of the central fountain, and climb the forbidden hill behind the rock pool at the upper end of the park. We bonded over Tastykakes™ long before they became popular, ate stick pretzels with yellow mustard after school (the occasional treat of one kindly nun), romped across the meadow opposite the school for impromptu baseball games, and walked sedately through the cemetery, not realizing that we would probably end up there.
Ann was a year younger and a grade lower than me. That made no difference to us – we were friends even after all those years. Last summer, when I caught up with her in the church parking lot, I listened to humorous recitals of her physical ailments. Now, reading her obituary brought up this concern of mine so vividly that I feel obligated to mention it to you.
Life has taught me that, in the natural order of things, the old often die toward the end of winter and before the coming of spring. Now, modern medicine has enabled many of us to live years beyond what our ancestors did. In medieval times, older people with weaker constitutions would die before the fresh vegetables could become available to nourish them. Diseases were spread through sharing of clothes and blankets, poverty, famines, wars – all contributed to untimely deaths of people of all ages.
So why did Ann, who was a year younger than me, die before me? Okay, I know full well that this feeling of mine is self-centered – if those younger than me die, who will be left to take care of me when I grow older than I am now? I’ll argue that such a feeling is a natural one, especially for one of my age now. I don’t apologize for feeling that way. It seems wrong, somehow.
Ann’s death leaves my ability to accept my own death on shaky ground. I don’t fear death itself (I’m not actually looking forward to the process of dying, of course), but I fear my inability to leave my precious memories in a younger person’s care. I fear leaving a disorganized and unrecorded life, full of a range of missteps and mild successes I’ve made, would be too large a burden on anyone. Yet I cannot see any way to prevent this from happening.
I read two newspapers every morning and, right after the comics, I turn to the obits to make sure that all those who died are older than me. Often times they are, but when the ages of the newly deceased appear to be younger, I silently mourn.
What I noticed the same day of Ann’s notice of death was the insult to humanity itself and to social injustice in particular. Yesterday two ads in the Classified section demonstrated a surprising inequality of common sense and respect for human life.
One ad needed a worker for a Crematorium – heavy lifting, long hours, $12/hour plus benefits. The other ad was also for a Crematory worker with the same requirements and offered a wage and benefits package of $15/hour – which is still not a living wage but better than $12/hour.
What was the difference? The higher wage offer was for a Crematory for Pets. Yep, folks, workers who burn our dead pets are paid more than the funeral workers who cremate us.
God, ya gotta work on these issues.
2 thoughts on “On the Injustice of Untimely Death”
Beautiful words, Anne. And yes, we do need to work on that.
To my grade school Best Pal.
Old Friends Turning Seventy-Five
Old friend I will be 75
When this clock digitals another 30 min.
God, man how’d that happen?
You never said we would be 75!!
Didn’t we run fast enough?
Weren’t we gonna know something different?
Didn’t we come from another place
Where you’re always 17 or 12 or never 75?
Wasn’t there something in Pepsi 12 oz.
That would give you eternal youth,
In lyrics Fats Domino chanted or Frankie Lyman
Or the cocky stance of James Dean or
The way a tire spun on a Schwinn bike
A jumping catch of a spiraling football
How it felt coming into your bosom
Sneaker feet dodging tackler’s futile moves?
Where is the worn path to the dam?
If I just bolt down there with Mickey the dog
I’d be as young as a Pheasant’s flight
Over the waves of brown straw grass,
Playing at the end of Tabor road.
When I dove off of Chain Bridge Cliffs
Didn’t it mean I would always be in the swift drop,
Plunging into the cool green flow of Neshaminy,
Always surfacing with long, mud red Irish hair,
Clinging over the freckled face, a fifteen-year-old?
Now I’ll be 75 in 11 minutes.