Ever Think of your own Death?

The tragic death of music icon Michael Jackson at age 50 is for me the culmination of almost a week’s worth of contemplating life, and death.

It comes as I reflect on what one of my mentors told me once when  I off-handedly asked how he was doing. He replied, “You know, I used to go to lots of weddings. Now all I do is attend funerals. My friends are leaving me, one by one”. Michael Jackson is metaphor for people passing away before their time.

Like my mentor, my friends have been leaving me, one by one. In most cases, they are dying way too young. This was brought home to me by the picture below. It was taken almost 26 years ago. It’s a picture of a drum and bugle corps, the New York Skyliners.

skyliners_1983Look closely, and those of you who know me will see my smiling face. There are people in that picture that were some of my closest friends outside of family. After all, we marched together, laughed together, and yes, sometimes even fought with each other.

What struck me looking at that picture is that more than a dozen of those people are dead. Only one or two made it to age 60. Some died of heart attacks, including one who passed away two weeks ago. Several died of various forms of cancer. Suffice to say they fought their illness to the very end, with the dignity and strength that made our organization what it was. Another group died of complications from HIV-AIDS.

It’s in this context that Michael Jackson’s passing makes me so sad. He was, like so many of the Skyliners in that picture, younger than I am. Maybe it’s me, but I wonder how I made it this far, when so many others haven’t. What I’m about to write next is something I ordinarily wouldn’t share with people, because it’s so personal. It’s about a dream I had the other night.

In that dream, I was with a lot of the people that are in that Skyliners photo. We  were all laughing, joking, goofing just as we did in 1983. I was as happy as I could be, thinking those dozen or so people weren’t really dead, not gone from my life. I won’t bother with names, since few of you would know them if I did. But they were a colorful, integrated, wonderful bunch of people. I said to one of them, “Geez, it’s great you guys aren’t really dead”!

He turned to me and said, “No, man, we are dead. I guess you don’t realize, you’re dead too”. At that point I awoke with a start. I’d never dreamt of being dead before. I was lucky to have an understanding wife to help me try and make sense of it all. Yet in the days since the dream, others have passed away, including one young man of 42, who we would run into periodically at family gatherings. He died Tuesday, his heart stopped beating on a basketball court.

I could write here about the need for people to look after their health, about diet and exercise and the like. It would all be true. Then I look at that picture, look at myself smiling and seemingly care-free. I look at others, some laughing, some stoic, too many gone.

And then, I think of Michael Jackson. Do you?


3 Comments Add yours

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  2. Jim says:

    I think about death frequently. Do you remember those photos of the South Vietnamese police officer that summarily executed someone he believed to be viet cong? I think it was from that point on, I have,had a fascination with medial photos of those that have died or who are about to. I wonder what their thoughts are. I wonder if they know or believe how soon death will overtake them.. Now some might think this is morbid, but I would argue that it is no less morbid than the intense quest for information about his last moments, and why he died. Did the doctor have something to do with it, was it drugs, was he really that sick? None of the answers to those questions, or the questions I offer, will change the irefuteable fact of the death. Perhaps our energies would be better spent dealing with those that are living, and making the best of those relationships while there is time…..because…..sooner or later….everyone’s time will be up

  3. sanda says:

    I remember the photo in the newspaper, real time, of the Vietnamese officer shooting someone in the head. Shocked me. Made me wonder about photographers more than about death.

    Being disabled by severe illness, I have thought of death many times. Being older than Mark, I have had friends die, many of them were disabled. (They did not die from their
    disabilities, but from care given: one from complications of hip replacement that he probably shouldn’t have had, due to heart condition, another from probably infection during treatment for porphiria, the same illness that is supposedly not fatal, and the book “Paula” by Isabel Allende about her daughter’s death from “care”, same illness and finally, a longtime pal who died from Mercr, three weeks into hospital visit, for treatment of “bed sores” from sitting in wheelchair and lastly, a pal who had MS, so they assumed her new symptoms were MS,but it was cancer and she died three days after it was diagnosed.)

    This gives me an opportunity to mention NotDeadYet http://www.notdeadyet.org a group’s
    blog from the point of view of disabled people being against assisted suicide.

    There was a radio shrink who died young, a guy who had said, “You live the amount of time you are supposed to.”. Those of us who have lost relatives and friends, who were young, have trouble with that. But, it’s all a mystery to me.

    Scary to dream of death. But, it’s not forecasting. I can’t recall the name of the Spanish writer who wrote, “There are 10,000 doorways to death.” long ago.

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