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  • Writer's pictureGerald Tindal

Day 36: Death


Five weeks have passed since your death.

Our life is moving back slowly into the slip stream of life and we question our preparation to fit your death in it. I worry about conversations with people. The small, aimless conversations in passing. How’s it going? Perfectly horrible, thank you. Are you ready for classes and students to be back? Haven’t thought about it. See you tomorrow at the meeting. What meeting? What are your plans for the weekend? No plans. Pick the topic and I have no answer. The conversation is meant to be pleasant. Supportive. Inclusive. It’s none of these but it must be. We need to bring these conversations back again so we can practice the quiet art that you had mastered: Being.

Your death came so suddenly with no preparation possible. In the 36 days since you died, many of our friends have written or spoken of deaths in their lives. Important deaths. These conversations are more quiet. Extended. Considerable silence between the words. So much understanding. Unspoken and unwritten. Charlie Parker once described jazz as playing between the notes. Well, dealing with death is the same. It’s between the notes, the words. Silence.

Your death is unlike anything we’ve known. You were too young to remember your uncle Tom’s death. I was on a cross country bike trip with George. Only three days into it, crossing the Oregon-Idaho border. We had known his cancer was dicey and treatment uncertain. Our plan was to launch the ride, talk to him every morning, check in, and pull out if something happened. Well, that morning, something happened. When I called, he mentioned he was confined to his bed. Couldn’t get out. Too weak. So we pulled short the trip and drove to Minneapolis in a U-Haul truck. He died 12 days later but I was able to spend time with him. Every day, we wandered through our childhood. This prepared me/us for his death. He was 44. A pilot. With your aunt Mary, the same. Her cancer came with the same death sentence delayed. For a couple of years. This time, the family was more prepared. Learning from Tom, our vigilance was readied. The quiet time together. Her favorite foods. A bonfire one cold night because she loved sitting out in the cold northern Wisconsin nights watching the flames in colors of orange, strangely flicking. Coals building beneath with radiant glows. Her final days growing up. Memories. Regrets shared. Life relived. And then finally, her death. She was 45. A nurse.

We were not prepared for your death. It’s unnatural to live our life thinking death sits quietly waiting. Lurking. Waiting to pounce out: Rattle our existence. You were 28. About to be someone in a professional life so well developed with your SPM program. Our conversations were about your life not preparation for your death.

So now we adjust. How we think. How we move about. How we live with your death. We’ll manage the conversations carefully. Curate those brief encounters to avoid the vulgar reality of your death and quietly appreciate conversations with those from shared experiences of death. You’ll be in both.

We love you.


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