Mixed Plate
On Death and Dying (10/17/03)

A final gift by the lamppost

On one of my daughter's homework assignments, she was asked what she feared. My daughter wrote "death." I was a little surprised, but then again, I wasn't. I guess we humans as a group all fear, to some degree, our own mortality.

Papa-san at our wedding, 1994

Last weekend, my great-grandmother passed away, and we had the service scheduled for Friday. She died at the hearty age of 103. I don't like funerals, but I really felt it was important for me to go to Papa-san's service.

I didn't really see her all that often while she was alive--we aren't that close to that part of our family. But I do remember the time when she gave our whole family a massage. Old-style shiatsu that was semi-religious in nature. Felt so good!

The service was small with only a few close relations there. I guess once you get that old, you outlive all your friends. Interestingly, the reverend was actually a family friend whose grandfather was the reverend who first got to know my Papa-san.

Death is thought of as a sad thing, but not really in this case. My great-grandmother actually was pretty healthy for most of her life and only needed more care during the last few years of her life.

The thing that really blew my mind was not really about my great-grandmother, but the heavy burden that one of my grand-aunts has been shouldering. She has been helping take care of three elderly people: two in their 70's (one wheelchair-stricken and the other barely getting by in a walker) and Papa-san. And my aunt's in her 70's too! It was impressive watching her maneuver and lift them all into her Camry by herself (she initially refused my assistance). Growing old is no fun.

After the service, we had dinner, talked story, laughed, and got to know the relatives better--all of this important parts of the healing process. But like I said, there was no heavy sadness. After we finished eating, we helped the old folks get into their cars and left.

That night, I was in bed with my wife, drifting to sleep while trying to watch an old bodyboarding video when I heard the screeching of tires followed by a loud crash. I knew right off that it was a car accident, so I jumped out of bed and darted outside.

Our house is on the main drag of a four-lane residential road. Drivers are always tempted to go faster than the 25 mph speed limit, given the wideness of the road. But this recklessness has taken a toll on property and life with a lot of accidents occurring on the road, especially near our house at the base of a slope on the outside of a turn. In fact, a few years ago, a car plowed into the wall fronting our house, totally demolishing it. Fortunately, no one was injured in that mishap.

Our wall got nailed by a car in 2001

This time, they weren't so lucky. A compact car apparently slid out and impacted a lamppost broadside on the driver's side. The girl in the passenger's seat came out, and I comforted her then attended to the driver.

I had written more details on the accident, but out of respect to the family and friends, decided not to use it. Suffice to say; I knew things were not good. All my training as a Boy Scout seemed so useless as I decided it would be better to just not do anything and let the professionals tend to the driver.

Within a few minutes, an off-duty police officer came on the scene and had a take-charge attitude (I was grateful). I asked him if we should do anything to slow the bleeding but he agreed that it would be best if we waited until EMT personnel arrived.

It seemed like an eternity, but eventually other police officers and firemen arrived. They put on a neck brace and eased him into a stretcher and eventually a gurney into the ambulance.

While waiting around, I could only survey the scene. Strange but the tracks the car left on the slightly wet pavement indicated that he was sliding backwards for many yards before the pole. (Found out later that the driver was "drifting" his car, sliding out on purpose.)

On the passenger's side floor, there was a very telling item--a 2 Fast, 2 Furious DVD. I could not help but see the cruel irony that this street racing video was a part of the carnage.

Needless to say, I couldn't sleep well that night. Not knowing the fate of the boy only compounded the angst. The next afternoon, I got my answer. A carload of kids parked in front of the lamppost and lay down some flowers. The boy had died in the hospital.

On Oahu, the past few days proved an especially tragic. In all, there were eight traffic fatalities in the course of 11 days.

So which is worse--a slow, lingering death or a tragic, early death? Obviously, neither one. Awareness of our mortality is important because it makes us realize that we are only transient beings, temporary tenants on this planet. We should strive for a long, healthy life, but at the same time be mindful that it could end at any time.

As for my daughter, I hope to teach her that death shouldn't be feared. Instead, life should be celebrated and health cherished.

Sign-waving to slow drivers down