For Whom the Bell Tolls   4 comments

We’ve all experienced loss, what is a loss that has really struck you? Compare losing someone you knew with someone you didn’t, and your thoughts on how it affected you.

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Related imageI was an orphan by the time I was 22 years old. My parents were older when they had me and so they died when I was pretty young. It’s been over 30 years for Mom and 40 years for Dad. I can’t say I miss them anymore. I do wonder what our relationship would have been like had they lived longer. But at some point, grief just seems … silly. What’s’ the point of it? I guess I’m a product of my mother’s farming background … where death is just another part of life. I grieved at the time and then I moved on. I remember my parents fondly, I have some questions I wish I would have thought to ask them when I was a kid, but I no longer grieve their passing because I focus on life rather than death.

I remember when Elvis Presley died. The story came across the radio at work and some of my coworkers were sad about that. I was 16 years old and I don’t think I’d ever known a time when Elvis had not been a part of my life. My mother truly enjoyed his music. But my reaction to his death was different from theirs. I was sad for his daughter, but not sad for myself. I didn’t know him. Whether he was dead or alive didn’t really affect my life. And I think that’s been my attitude as any famous person has died … it doesn’t affect my life so why would I grieve?

Same sort of feeling with 911. I felt horror at the thought of all those people dying, but I don’t mark it as a special day of mourning every year because to me that would be living in the past and that’s not how I choose to live my life.

But some deaths are more personal than others.

When my friend Dick Underwood passed, I felt profoundly sad for myself because I would not see him again this side of heaven. I can still get a little choked up over that two years later. But that feeling of grief was and is tempered by the knowledge that as Christians we will see each other in heaven. I anticipate Dick paddling some celestial river in a canoe and I smile when that image comes to mind. For Dick, death was an upgrade not a tragedy and so, for me to remember his death is not really sad.

I used to work in a mental health-focused nonprofit. About nine years ago, a schizophrenic patient stabbed one of my coworkers to death. I wasn’t there when it happened. I found out about it the next morning. The feelings I had that day and in the months and years since are powerful – angry at the client (we’ll call him Brian) for taking this young woman’s life and at the staff psychiatrist who ignored warnings that this client was off his meds and had a history of violence, sad for Genine’s husband of only a few months, perplexed at the rage my coworkers aimed at the Executive Director rather than at the client or the psychiatrist, irritation at the judge who kept fracking with the case trying to cause a mistrial because he disagreed with Alaska’s governing law of guilty, but mentally ill …. Unlike “innocent by reason of insanity” the Alaska legal standard means Brian will go to prison for the rest of his life if he ever convinces a medical board that he’s sane enough to be released from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. It does not risk this dangerous man getting out to hurt someone again. It recognizes that, while he is a schizophrenic, he is not the victim in this case — Genine was. That the judge disagrees with the standard … well, he’s been removed from office by a vote of no confidence by Alaska voters. Fitting … as fitting as the psychiatrist no longer being allowed to see patients at the local hospital. She still has her private practice, but she doesn’t have hospital privileges, which means she can’t work for a mental health agency any longer.

Probably the most salient thing to know about that experience is that I am pissed off that State law denied Genine the right to protect herself from Brian. When he pulled a big butcher knife all she could do was run and when she stumbled in the snow outside the emergency exit, he stabbed her three times in the back. In my current job, when we did an active shooter training, the FBI asked us how many of us had a plan for in case an active shooter came into our building. My plan is to take cover, let the shooter pass me by, and shoot the shooter in the back from my position of cover. The FBI trainer agreed that would probably save a lot of lives and only suggested that I put my gun down before the cops got there … which I already knew. So yeah, Genine’s death definitely left a permanent impression on me.

Now you sort of know what I have felt about different deaths I’ve experienced. I have a spectrum of reactions, highly dependent on the facts surrounding those deaths.  Everything that happens to us as humans can be used in our writing … even if that experience was germain to someone near us and not to us personally. In writing about Shane and Jill’s reactions to the bombings in Life As We Knew It, I drew from my observations of what my coworkers experienced when Elvis died and what I experienced right along with them on 911. Some of my descriptions of what Shane (who has PTSD) experiences in stressful situations are drawn from what I experienced while working at mental health. I also was a psychiatric transcriptionist for a while and sometimes I’m drawing on what I learned from the sessions I transcribed. Grief comes in many flavors and makes wonderful conflict for our stories.

So, we should go check out what my fellow blog-hoppers have to say on this topic. Has death coming knocking for them as well?

Posted August 27, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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4 responses to “For Whom the Bell Tolls

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  1. Wow, that is awful about your coworker. It’s wrong that she couldn’t defend herself in that scenario. Also, I don’t understand grief over a public figure like some people get. I know they mourn and feel it deeply, but I just don’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, as you say, it’s all good experience for us authors. Sad to have to experience it in the first place though.

    Like

  3. There often is no easy answer about why good people die and bad people live.Or any answer at all, really.

    Liked by 1 person

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