I don’t know how long I’ve hated death. I know that having some innate comprehension of the sacred nature of the living, I’ve never wanted to squash a bug.
I know that I hated death one night when I stood small under a dark velvet sky that glittered with stars as I watched my strong tall daddy hunched over a shovel by the deep hole he had dug, crying over our big brown dog, Spook. I had heard them speak of Spook as though he were a nurturer of sorts- keeping my baby brother and me from the road. I think I was four.
I know I’ve hated it since the time, not long after the death of our large lumbering canine, when I rescued an injured young squirrel from the street in front of my great-grandmother’s house on South Main and had to get a tetanus shot after the furry frightened critter bit my finger. I don’t think the tiny guy made it.
I know I’ve despised it since the day I came home from school to find our ridiculusly plump dachshund, Sambo, on our concrete patio with a broken back. He lay under a bicycle that had fallen over on him.
Sambo had once saved me from the bite of a copperhead when we were walking the gravel roads of my visionary grandfather’s real estate development, Rolling Hills. As we journeyed along, somehow the decision was made to momentarily abandon the straight way and make a path for ourselves to the crystal clear running stream below.
The snake we happened upon as we made our way toward the bubbling brook was poised to strike at my ankle as I lifted a foot to take one more step, and faithful little Sambo barked and lunged. He took the hit for me- just above his eye. The venom nearly brought the black angel that very evening but my small loyal friend was granted a reprieve. I’d like to think I prayed for him, but honestly I don’t remember.
I hated death the day I flushed my shimmering, boldly striped Tiger Barb down the toilet, after carefully assuring it that the punishment was oh-so-sadly necessary as it was a bully and had relentlessly tormented my significantly larger, delicately-laced, fluttering Angel fish by nipping at their fins until they could no longer swim properly, and finally succumbed to the end themselves.
I passionately abhorred The Grim Reaper when I arrived at my Granny’s large rambling farm house on Sanderson Lane one summer. I may have been eight or nine. After anticipating for days being reunited with my silky-soft unassuming baby bunny, a grand gift from my great-aunt, I found an empty hutch and listened to my Granny tell the story of a neighbor’s large German shepherd over turning the habitat and destroying the lovely quiet creature.
I’ve hated death since the day I was told that a pretty little blond-haired, round-faced girl from my Brownie troop had been hit by a car while riding her bike and hadn’t made it. I shouldn’t expect to be seeing her on the school bus anymore. I had not liked her because she was unkind to me and now I would never have the chance to try to understand why and to maybe make friends.
I’ve hated death since I was a senior in high school and served on my school’s student council with a young man who was killed in a car wreck on his way home from prom, only one day following our trip to purchase items for our upcoming graduation. He would never have the opportunity to graduate, nor to get married and have a family. He would never be able to prove us right that he was “most likely to succeed.” He would never have the chance for so many ordinarily beautiful things.
The disdain I felt for death as a young woman stood in sharp contrast to the bright sunny weather of South Florida, when we buried my smiley nephew. He had been adopted from Korea in his infancy by his parents only three years earlier, a darling affectionate boy with laughing eyes and a shiny future. He was lost to them in a moment.
The automobile accident that took my nephew happened beside the friendly little church of white cinder block where his family spent much of their time, and where we said our final farewells before making our way to the cemetery where we would as an eclectic collective of grief lay his body to rest beneath the towering stately Live Oaks.
I faced death with tremendous fury on a recent night in December when it came to visit in my own driveway. We had barely placed the final flourishes on our annual family gingerbread house competition entries, and done the obligatory snacking on the candy treats not used in the creation of the mostly outstanding craft works. The elfish structures were proudly displayed in our warm colorful kitchen.
We were amusedly bantering about the selection of this year’s winner as we saw the older children out on their way to their own homes, when The Dark Lord came calling. He came in the middle of our jovial Walton-styled, “I love yous,” which we call out at every parting though we all live in the same city. He came suddenly and swiftly to claim my gentle generous son-in-love; to treacherously rip him from my daughter’s arms and from the newly budding life of my grandson. He came and in minutes stole an essential ten year chunk of our families existence. All this, and he made no apologies- offered no remorse for so quickly and thoroughly disrupting our lives, then leaving us dismayed with hearts broken.
I don’t know if I have despised death since I was four or longer even, maybe since before God put me here, but I know I loathe death now as I contemplate the last breath of my stepfather who was part of my life for thirty-four years. He was a man who once spent more than one hundred consecutive days in a foxhole in the Philippines surrounded by enemy fire to protect our nation and to preserve our freedom. He was eighteen at the time. They eventually gave him a bronze star.
Papa’s final exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen marked the end of an earthly connection that loomed large for me. Our relationship included many a lively conversation covering a wide array of interests and topics, including theology and what eventually became our shared Christian Faith. The fellowship was one I will always treasure, one in which I enjoyed a sense of security, fondness, and mutual respect. Mostly he blessed me by loving my mother so well. We will bury his worn out ninety year old body tomorrow in the cold January morning.
I would be lying if I said that over time and with greater maturity I believe death may become more palatable to me. I think it will always remain as horribly distasteful as ever. Still, though I detest The Dark Lord, I am comforted today because I know that death is not allowed the final word. I realize that though death is a kind of terrible end, it is at the same moment a prelude to a new and beautiful beginning. I am possessed of a strange peace as I am fully assured that those who kiss The Son will live again, and will live truly and forever.
Copyright 2017. L.L. Shelton.