First death, then what? (Part III)

It began with the quick and painless death of a wasp, and before that a gecko, each act filled with compassion tainted with the crimson stench of killing.  Finally, as though inevitably, it carried me to that place I ignored these past many months: the death of Derek, the death of my grandmother, the death of too many.

Compassion is the most painful of all emotions.  It requires of us that which we abhor, that which cleaves a heart asunder with what must be and what cannot be.

Mercy killing.  Even the oxymoron of the term does little justice to the burdens we carry as we enact the very thing we hate the most: death.

I kill an insect and no one notices.  I notice, yes, for I do that thing for only one of two reasons:  Either I am imminently threatened or I am acting from a sense of profound humanity.

I kill a reptile and no one notices.  I notice, yes, for I do that thing for a single reason: I feel responsible for a life I know encompasses nothing short of suffering and anguish.

I put a cat, Henry, to sleep and no one notices.  I notice, yes, for I do that thing for one reason alone: I refuse to let a loved one suffer needlessly when a painful act of compassion can end his suffering, even if it prolongs my own.

I kill a man by withholding the treatment that would keep him alive while robbing him of peace and true living, and everyone notices.  Why the difference?

Are we so entombed in our own sense of superiority as to see the taking of a life as something meaningful and worthy of serious consideration only when it touches the life of another human?

And in the taking of a human life, in the kindness spent from my heart’s till, I become the monster, the heartless fiend responsible for stealing away from others the time with someone they ignored for far too long.

But what of my pain?

When my father needed support for his decision not to be resuscitated should something go terribly wrong as doctors worked to remove aggressive tumors from inside his head, did I flinch?  No.  And did anyone question my support for that decision?  No.

Yet the same cannot be said for allowing Derek’s life to find its own conclusion at a time when his body could no longer withstand the vehement onslaught of a cataclysmic disease bent on destroying him.

His finale, vivid and vibrant just as his life was, brought with it the painful realization I had long feared: those who claimed to cherish him found in that ending no reason to change their ways.  All that was of him disappeared in a fury of selfishness, of taking, of demanding; all that he left behind vanished contrary to his will while life still ebbed within his flesh.

Shadows dark and vile fell upon his legacy.  Those of us who truly loved him felt the pain most.

4 thoughts on “First death, then what? (Part III)”

  1. I stated all along, the responsibility to keep in touch with Derek was not all his. His family swore they knew something was wrong, yet no one could bothered to find out what. Now they vent their misery by finger pointing. Keep your fingers. Keep your excuses. Bottom line, where were they when he needed them. Their own inaction condemns them. If Derek wasn’t important to them then, their actions shouldn’t be important to you now. You did your best for your friend while they didn’t even do that for family. They shall wallow in their selfmade prison, their own doing.

  2. True on all counts. I suppose my unfortunate curse is that I feel things too deeply. Nothing short of cold-hearted stoicism can save me from that monster.

  3. Jason, I’m so sorry you’ve experienced such losses, and I’m so sorry you and Derek had the additional pain of his family’s behavior to deal with. I’m glad you don’t seem to question your decision, and I’m glad your Mom is such an obviously-awesome support system. There are so many other thoughts I want to write, but none seem to convey the intense compassion I feel in my heart. I guess I’ll just wait til I get to meet you in person some day and can give you a big hug. Again, I’m sorry for your losses.

    1. Thank you for your kind thoughts, AJ. His birthday was February 20, so he’s been on my mind these past weeks.

      And yes, both my mom and dad have been and continue to be the foundation upon which I can always rely.

      We most certainly will meet in person–and I’ll take you up on the hug offer.

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