Friday, February 20, 2009

The Mysteries of Life and Death

Recently, a blogger acquaintance of mine reported on her blog that a young man she knew, a seventh grader, had died of the flu. Such an event is rare these days — but it does happen.

When such a young person dies, it always raises questions. The older one gets, the more one is confronted by these situations, but they seldom seem to bring the wisdom for which one might hope. When I was in third grade, one of my classmates was very ill with leukemia and died the following summer. Several years later, a young man in my town — who was not yet 30 — died of a brain tumor. A few years after that, a close friend of mine — who also was not yet 30 — died of lymphoma; I was a pallbearer at his funeral.

In my Freedom Writing blog yesterday, I wrote about an article from the New York Times about a young woman in England who has been a regular on British reality TV programs since 2002. She learned last summer that she has cervical cancer, then she learned a week ago that the cancer has spread and there is nothing more the doctors can do for her. She is expected to live two more months, at the most, and she has said that she might die in front of the TV cameras. Her case, as I mentioned in my other blog, has raised many ethical and moral issues.

All these instances I've mentioned involve disease, but whether the cause of death is a disease or a natural disaster like a flood or a tornado or an accident or the result of foul play, it's always hard to accept the loss of someone so young. It contradicts what most of us have believed all our lives and emphasizes, perhaps in a way that nothing else can, how unfair life truly can be.

I've been thinking about this young man's death all week and wondering if there was anything wise to say to my blogger friend. And then, today, I saw a rerun of a "Frasier" episode from the series' first season.

In the program, a doctor whose office was in Niles' building and who happens to be Frasier's age (and was, apparently, in great health) drops dead with no warning. Frasier obsesses over the event, trying to understand what happened — presumably so he can avoid making the same mistake. Although he didn't really know the doctor, he attends the man's wake, meets his relatives and the young widow and finally understands something everyone must accept at one time or another.

At the top of this post is the final scene from that show. I'll say nothing more except that I urge you to watch the clip. It is extremely well written and well performed. And it will have great meaning for anyone who has experienced a death that seems beyond comprehension.

I hope my friend watches it — and that it brings her peace.