Tag Archives: death

Katrina Tree

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When my dad died, my sibling insisted I travel to Mississippi for his memorial service.

I was house sitting in Tracy, California when he passed on Monday afternoon. My dad’s wife scheduled the memorial service for the upcoming Friday evening. By Tuesday I’d bought a $600 round-trip airline ticket. By Thursday morning, I was flying out of Oakland, on my way down South.

My sibling and my sibling’s partner met me at the airport in New Orleans. They rented a car, and the partner drove us through the darkness surrounding Interstate 10, all the way to Ocean Springs. The three of us visited awkwardly with my father’s wife (who was holding up exceptionally well), then headed to Bay St. Louis where we would spend the night.

We stayed at the home of my sibling’s partner’s aunt and uncle. The aunt and uncle were out of town, but they graciously offered us the use of their empty home. It was dark when we pulled into the driveway, but my sibling managed to find the hidden spare key. It wasn’t long before we were passed out in the spare bedrooms, exhausted and probably still shocked at the unexpected death of the patriarch.

The next morning we were blessed by being able to sleep until we woke up naturally. My sibling cooked breakfast and we planned our day. I needed to stop at a thrift store before we saw my dad’s wife again so I could buy a new shirt. (I only had one shirt with me, the one I’d worn the night before. I thought my dad’s wife would only see me once before the memorial service, but it turned out she’d see me twice, and I knew she would notice if I had on the same shirt I’d been wearing the night before.) Before we went back to my dad’s house, my sibling wanted to show me the “Katrina Trees.”

My sibling and the partner and their son had visited my dad and his wife the previous summer. During the visit, my dad and his wife had taken them to see several “Katrina Trees.” The “Katrina Trees” were trees that had been killed by Hurrican Katrina in 2005 and later carved into large-scale sculptures. My sibling wanted me to see at least one of these trees that meant so much to my dad and his wife.

According to https://www.gulfcoast.org/listings/hurricane-katrina-tree-sculptures/3683/, the

tree-sculptures are located all along scenic Highway 90. There are now approximately 50 sculptures throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast,

The website for the city of Biloxi (https://www.biloxi.ms.us/katrina-biloxi/sculptures/) says,

The trees were victims of the saltwater storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

There was no plaque with the tree, no explanation or artist information. I did some internet research and determined this tree was carved by chainsaw artist Dayle Lewis of Indiana. My conclusion was confirmed by “Lewis 2012” carved into the bottom of the sculpture, just under the heron.

According to https://www.gulfcoast.org/listings/hurricane-katrina-carved-angels/4266/, Lewis has carved angel sculptures out of six live oaks killed by Hurricane Katrina’s 40-foot saltwater surge. The trees can be found throughout Bay St. Louis.

  • Two…“Carved Angels” stand in the Cedar Rest Cemetery on Second Street[.]
  • One [is on] Beach Blvd – In front of Our Lady of the Gulf Church[.]
  • One [is] near Century Hall[.]
  • Two are located on the first block of Demontluzin Avenue[.] The “Demontluzin Avenue Angel” was used as a life raft by three Katrina survivors and their dog.

I read an article on the Florida Times-Union website (http://jacksonville.com/sports/outdoorsoutside/2014-08-30/story/angel-tree-mississippi-gulf-coast-saved-3-lives-during) which shows a photo of the tree I visited with the story of the three Katrina survivors and the dog, but I think they used the wrong image. While both trees were carved by Dayle Lewis, the tree where the three people and the dog spent the night during the hurricane was described in an article on the WGNO web page (http://wgno.com/2016/09/14/the-unique-guardian-angels-of-bay-st-louis/) as “probably the plainest of them all.” The article goes on to say,

The most elaborate of the four angel trees looks out to sea, just like the original one — it has several angels carved into it, along with some herons, ladybugs, turtles and pelicans. One of the angels has white eyes — of all the angels that adorn the four angel trees, it’s the only one with white eyes.

The tree I visited is clearly elaborate, faces the sea, features turtles, herons, and pelicans (sorry, but I don’t remember any ladybugs), and includes an angel with white eyes.

We didn’t stay at the tree very long. I took photos, and my sibling hugged it, then we headed back to my dad’s house to prepare for his memorial service. We didn’t stay long, but it did me good to see the tree. It did me good to see such a wonderful part of the life of my father, a life that I missed for so many years.

Death Don’t Have No Mercy

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Alejandro was a good guy who drank himself to death before he turned 40. He died last week, one more to go in 2016.

His dad is an alcoholic too. He started his son down the path by giving Alejandro beer while he was still in elementary school. From then on, Alejandro was his dad’s drinking buddy, even when the alcohol was adversely affecting the younger man’s health.

Confronting Alejandro’s drinking would have required confronting his own alcohol abuse, so his father insisted there was no problem. There were problems, all right. In the last couple of years, Alejandro often shit blood for weeks on end. And there was the time a drunken Alejandro pulled a gun on a guy who’d pissed him off. Anyone who could admit the truth knew alcohol was going to kill Alejandro one way or another.

In the last months of his life, as his health declined, his father and extended family refused to commit him to rehab. They’re a close knit clan, ready to fight each other as well as outsiders.I suppose they thought they could take care of their own.

Alejandro was a talented lapidarist who shaped and polished stones to sell to tourists and other vendors alike. His work was good, and jewelry makers valued the cabochons he produced.

When selling at the Bridge, Alejandro kept his rough stones in a pan of water so potential customers could see how they’d look after they were polished. He cracked me up one hot summer day, when, in response to a man asking why the rocks were in water, he said, absolutely serious, it keeps them wetter. He was a smartass, but he was good at telling jokes, knew how to keep a straight face, knew the proper rhythm to use to make the punchline pop.

He had two preteen daughters who loved him fiercely. He loved them too, even when he wasn’t getting along with their mother. The girls did their childish best to look after him. I can only imagine how those girls are going to miss him as they grow, the pain they’ll feel when he’s not around for the milestones in their lives.

Alejandro’s death is such a waste. He didn’t have to die. I know it’s more complicated than just stop drinking, but people manage to do it. I think Alejandro could have done it too. I think he could have gotten sober, under different circumstances. I think he could have lived to a ripe old age, seen his little girls grow up, shaped and polished a lot of stones, told a lot more jokes. It wasn’t too late until it was.

I wasn’t close to Alejandro, but he was part of my community. I cared about him. I worried about him. I was a friend to his young daughters and their mother too. I hated what was happening to him. I was sad when I found out he was gone from this world.

I hope for Alejandro–as I hope for everyone who dies–that he no longer knows pain, physical or mental. I hope he is at peace.

He will be missed.

 

Podcasts

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The first time I ever heard a podcast was when I moved from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. My traveling companion had loaded her MP3 player with music and words for our journey. At some point we listed to an episode of Stuff You Should Know about fluoride. (You can find that episode here: http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/is-fluoride-making-us-stupid.htm.)

Me Talk Pretty One Day
SIDENOTE: On that road trip, we also listened to David Sedaris read essays from his book Me Talk Pretty One Day. My favorite story in that book is “Jesus Shaves.” We had to stop playing it before it was over because my traveling companion was laughing so hard she was crying, making driving dangerous. (The image to the left is connected to my Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it to shop, I will receive a commission from your purchases.)

If you don’t know, according to http://www.dictionary.com/browse/podcast?s=t, a podcast is

a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer.

The first podcast I really, really liked was RISK! Here’s what the RISK! webpage (http://risk-show.com/about-us/) has to say:

 RISK! is a live show and podcast “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public” hosted by Kevin Allison, of the legendary TV sketch comedy troupe The State. The award-winning live show happens monthly in New York and Los Angeles…The weekly podcast gets around a million downloads each month. Slate.com called it “jaw-dropping, hysterically funny, and just plain touching.”

If you want to hear people tell true stories about sex, drugs, feces, humiliation, and sketchy parenting (among other things) while using lots of curse words, RISK! is the podcast for you. It is not a lie, cliché, or hyperbole when I say I’ve laughed ’til I cried while listening to the stories of RISK!, and sometimes I’ve just cried.

To listen to RISK! for yourself, go here: http://risk-show.com/listen/.

I like to have a podcast on while I’m doing work with my hands, typically work that doesn’t take too much brain power. Washing dishes? Podcast. Making hemp bracelets and necklaces? Podcast. Creating hats from yarn? Podcast. Cooking a meal? Podcast. Folding clothes? Podcast. Gluing little bits of paper into a collage? Podcast.

I revisited Stuff You Should Know a few years ago while house sitting in a secluded location. The house had no television, and it was just me and the dogs out there. I missed human voices. Hearing the banter of the hosts of the podcast, Charles (Chuck) Bryant and Josh Clark, made me feel less alone.

You can find episodes of Stuff You Should Know here: http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts.

Stuff You Should Know led me to Stuff You Missed in History Class since both programs are produced by the same parent company, How Stuff Works. Find all the offerings of How Stuff Works here: http://www.howstuffworks.com/.

Stuff You Missed in History Class has gone through a series of hosts since its beginning. My favorite hosts of the program are the two current smart and sassy women, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. I enjoy their comfortable presentation style while feeling confident they did their homework before hitting the record button. The amount of reading and research these women do for each episode is amazing. Holly and Tracy give us more than just the history of rich white dudes. I appreciate their inclusion of episodes about feisty women and LGBTQ folks fighting for civil rights.

If you want to listen to episodes of Stuff You Missed in History Class, go here: http://www.missedinhistory.com/podcasts.

While downloading podcasts from iTunes, I discovered Death, Sex & Money. The show’s website (http://www.wnyc.org/shows/deathsexmoney) calls Death, Sex & Money

[a] podcast hosted by Anna Sale about the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.

I appreciate the way Anna Sale asks really personal questions while managing to express deep kindness and intense curiosity. She really knows how to get root of the matter without seeming pushy or mean. Of course, many of the episodes are heart-rending, covering topics from dead mothers and fathers (sad) to dead infants (super sad). The episodes focusing on sex and money tend to be a little more fun, although no less thought-provoking.

One of my favorite episodes of this show is an interview with Lucinda Williams (http://www.wnyc.org/story/lucinda-williams-death-sex-money). Lucinda starts off honest and raw and stays that way for nearly half an hour. Also fantastic is the five part series about New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina. (You can start that New Orleans series here: http://www.wnyc.org/story/in-new-orleans-from-raising-hell-to-raising-kids.)

Check out everything Death, Sex & Money here: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/deathsexmoney.

My newest favorite is Myths and Legends, featuring my podcast boyfriend, Jason Weiser. (Shhh! Jason doesn’t know he’s my podcast boyfriend. Neither does his wife.) Not only do I enjoy Jason’s calm, soothing voice and his snarky-funny comments (he holds nothing back when he talks about The Little Mermaid), but the stories from around the world are fun to listen to. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I put the volume of my phone down low, start this program playing, and let Jason’s tranquil voice comfort me all night.

Here’s what Myths and Legends has to say for itself:

This is a weekly podcast telling legendary stories as closely to the originals as possible. Some are incredibly popular stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories that might be new to you, but are definitely worth a listen.

If you want to be soothed by Jason’s voice and entertained by the stories, go here: https://www.mythpodcast.com/.

That’s what I’m listening to these days, when I’m not listening to music. I hope these suggestion inspire my readers to listen to some new, educational podcasts. Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite podcast.

Me and My Uncles

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My dad was dead, and I was hurriedly planning a trip to the Deep South.

Do you think Uncle Duckie will be there? I asked my sibling.

I hadn’t even thought of him, was the reply. I don’t want to see him.

Neither did I.

However, when I spoke to my aunt, I found out Duckie had been by my father’s side in the days leading to his death. He’d been helping my dad’s wife with arrangements. Hell yes he was going to be there. We’d certainly see him.

My dad had three brothers.

Stewart, the oldest, was stillborn or died very soon after birth. He was never counted when we spoke of my dad’s siblings, however. Apparently a baby who died so soon was barely part of the family. I only wondered about this as an adult. Was this loss of her first child what made my grandmother so mean, or had that happened long before she was a grieving mother? Did her fear of losing another baby cause her to throw up walls around her heart when dealing with her other kids? Grandma has been dead for over a decade, and I’ll never know her truth.

The oldest child to grow up in my dad’s familty is Uncle Ronnie . He was a career military man. My father often characterized him as so smart, he’s stupid. He’s in his 80s now, and, I discovered at my dad’s memorial service, as deaf as a post.

Uncle Duckie is next in the line of children birthed by my paternal grandmother. He’s been a sleezeball and a racist and a pervert as long as I’ve known him. I grew up hearing stories of how my grandmother beat him. Well, she beat all her kids, but particularly Duckie. At least once, my grandfather had to intervene because he was afraid she was going to kill the boy, who was a toddler at the time. He says he still has the scars. I don’t doubt it.

There was one girl child in the family, born a couple of years before my father, who was the baby.

No one expects to lose their youngest sibling first. He cut in line, my aunt said.

The only material possession of my fathers I could contemplate wanting was a ring that had belonged to his father, the grandfather who died before I was born. One of us should have that ring, I wrote to my sibling as we made plans to travel to the homeland. My sibling thought the ring should go to my dad’s only grandchild, and I readily agreed. I didn’t need the ring, but I wanted it to stay with someone who had a tie to it, someone who’d appreciate it.

When my sibling and I arrived at my dad’s house the night before his memorial service, his wife had a handwritten when-I-die letter he’d composed several years ago. In the letter he said he wanted his grandchild to have the ring.

Duckie asked me for the ring, my dad’s wife told us, and I told him yes, but that was before I found this letter. She said she would tell Duckie my dad wanted the ring to go to the grandchild. It was my dad’s last will and testament, after all.

Later, when we got in the car, my sibling said, Can we talk for a minute about that motherfucker Duckie trying to get the ring?

I allowed how since our grandfather, the original owner of the ring, was Duckie’s dad too, I could understand he would want it. However, you could have let my dad be dead a week before he started asking for family heirlooms.

The next day, when we pulled up in the driveway of my dad’s house, Duckie was standing outside.

There he is, I said.

Time hasn’t been kind to Duckie. He looks like an old version of Gonzo from the Muppets. What am I talking about? Duckie is literally 80 years old. It would be weird if he didn’t look old, but his nose…Gonzo. I’m not kidding.

As my sibling would be the one to deliver the ring to the grandchild, I said before we got out of the car, Be sure you get the ring before we leave. I didn’t want Duckie weaseling it into his possession at some later date.

My dad’s wife broached the subject of the ring before my sibling or I could bring it up. She summoned us to the room with the closet housing my dad’s safe.

Did you tell Duckie he wasn’t getting the ring? I asked.

She said she had.

What did he say? I asked.

He didn’t say nothing, she said with her Tennessee twang. He wasn’t happy. I could tell by his face. But he didn’t say nothing.

Conflict averted. Thanks for putting it in writing, Dad.

I didn’t see Uncle Ronnie until he arrived at the church for the memorial service. He looked good. He looked younger than either my dad or Duckie. If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed his age as early 60s, not his real 80+ years. However, as soon as he started talking embarrassingly loudly, I knew his hearing was gone.

He told my sibling, I don’t hear women’s voices.

Maybe he has high-frequency hearing loss, making it literally more difficult for him hear female speech (http://www.hearatlanta.com/inability-to-hear-womens-voices-is-a-symptom-of-high-frequency-hearing-loss/), but I had to wonder when he was ever in the habit of listening to what women had to say.

Although he was sitting in the pew behind me, I clearly heard Ronnie tell Duckie how he had basically raised my father. My grandmother wasn’t there to refute the statement.

Ronnie then told Duckie our ancestors were royalty and there’s a castle with our name on it back in the old country. It seems a bit strange to keep such information a secret for all these years, but I suppose Ronnie has his reasons. (I suspect one reason it that this royalty and castle idea is a figment of Ronnie’s imagination, as are the alien abductions he tried to tell us about later.)

Then Ronnie approached me.

You’re the oldest, he announced loudly enough for most everyone in the church to hear.

When your daddy changed his religion, he continued, he gave me his Bible. Would you like to have it?

Oh, no, you should keep it, I said brightly but quietly.

Good, he said loudly. We’ll exchange addresses and I’ll send it to you.

I guess he couldn’t hear my woman’s voice.

Before the night was over, Duckie had invited a married fundamentalist Christian woman from my dad’s church to sit in his lap. When someone asked him if his 54 year-old niece was his wife, he said, I wish! while sitting right next to his actual wife of five decades.

When one of the people from my dad’s church asked Ronnie something about his wife, he responded for all to hear, We’ve been married 57 years. We’ve tried everything!

Later he tried to give me a bed built by one of our ancestors soon after his arrival in the New World. Ronnie has not only the bed, but a list of everyone born in it. Apparently, I am the only one of my cousins qualified to own the bed because since I’ve never married, I still carry the family name. When Ronnie mentioned offering the bed to a museum, I enthusiastically endorsed that idea. I’m sure there is no room in my van for an ancestral bed.

And then it was done. My dad was dead, and his memorial service was over. I’d never have to see those men again, dead or alive.

 

 

 

 

 

Deaths of 2016

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Glenn Frey was the first, or at least the first I knew about. I heard about his January 18 death while I was at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. We listened to several songs by The Eagles one night around the campfire, a fitting memorial.

Reading a list of celebrity deaths, I see that before we lost Glenn Frey, we lost David Bowie and Allen Rickman, Pat Harrington, Jr., and a dozen other people I’d never heard of.

February took Vanity and Harper Lee.

In March it was Ken Howard, Gary Shandling, and Patty Duke.

Merle Haggard died on April 6, then on the 21st, we lost Prince. The death of Prince blindsided me. Who saw it coming? Not me. Prince’s death hit me hard. (You can read my blog post tribute to Prince here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/04/27/good-night-sweet-prince/.)

People–famous and ordinary–kept dying throughout May, bet the next famous death to get to me was Muhammad Ali in June. I learned about it late. I’d been on the mountain and missed the media blitz. (I wrote a blog post tribute to Muhammad Ali too. You can read it here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/07/21/muhammad-ali/.)

Gene Wilder slipped away in August.

Some people had died and I didn’t even know until I started looking at lists on the internet. Lois Duncan, one of my favorite writers when I was in middle school, died in June. The event hadn’t made the headlines. Pete Fountain passed in August. Buckwheat Zydeco died in September, but I didn’t get the news until October.

Early in October, while doing my job as a camp host, I found a dead man in a campground. (Read about that experience here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/11/something-terrible/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/22/more-about-the-man-who-died/.) On October 24, Pete Burns from the band Dead or Alive died from cardiac arrest, and on Halloween, I lost my dad. He was 70 years old.

My dad fell on the job in March. He was making a delivery and slipped on plastic on the floor. The plastic had apparently been there all day, but no one had bothered to sweep it up. My dad hurt his back. He was in so much pain, he took doctor-prescribed pain pills even though he hated the way they made his brain feel. His doctor suggested back surgery, and my dad agreed, but worker’s comp fought them for months. Finally the surgery was approved and scheduled for October 24.

Dad came through the back surgery ok. The doctor was pleased with how well he had done. But my dad was having problems with elimination and ended up back in the hospital.

I got word he had “c diff.” What in the hell is that? I wondered.

According to http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/clostridium-difficile-colitis#1,

…when something upsets the balance of [the] organisms in your gut, otherwise harmless bacteria can grow out of control and make you sick. One of the worst offenders is a bacterium called Clostridium difficile(C. difficile, or C. diff). As the bacteria overgrow they release toxins that attack the lining of the intestines, causing a condition called Clostridium difficilecolitis.

…it is most likely to affect patients in hospitals or long-term care facilities. Most have conditions that require long-term treatment with antibiotics, which kill off other intestinal bacteria that keep C. diff in check.

From what I understand, my dad was basically unable to make decisions at that point. His wife gave permission for surgery, and his colon was removed. Would Dad want to live without a colon? I wondered, but I know his wife understood his wishes better than I did.

Even with the removal of his colon, it was too late. His blood pressure kept dropping, and he didn’t make it.

I know we’ve all got to die. My dad knew it too. He was very clear on the concept throughout my life. But I’m infuriated his death was caused by an on-the-job-injury. I’m infuriated he died because no one could be bothered to sweep the floor. I’m infuriated that he spent his last months in the worst pain of his life because the worker’s comp bureaucracy is on the side of businesses and not on the side of workers.

My dad and I had a complicated relationship. Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, my dad was a racist and misogynist. He’d mellowed out some in the last decade, but he knew how to press my buttons and enjoyed doing so. I coped by removing myself from the situation as much as possible. I hadn’t seen him in almost six years, but we did talk on the phone a couple of days before he died. I didn’t know it would be our last conversation.

My dad taught me to ride a bike. He worked a series of jobs he must have hated to provide for his family. We always had food on the table; as a child, I never knew what it was to be hungry. My dad was a self-taught plumber, mechanic, and carpenter. He told me once he’d never been able to hire anyone, so he’d had to learn to build and repair.

Over twenty years ago, my dad became a fundamentalist Christian. My sincere hope is that he’s gone up to Heaven to meet the God he believed in so strongly .

(I have to make last-minute trip  to my dad’s home for a memorial service. Relative were adamant I be there. Then I have to figure out where to stay until my next house sitting job begins. Please don’t give up on me if you don’t see any blog posts here for a week or so. If you subscribe to the blog, you’ll be notified when the next post is ready for reading.)

To see a long list of 2016 celebrity deaths, go here: http://www.syracuse.com/celebrity-news/index.ssf/2016/01/celebrity_deaths_in_2016_famous_photos.html\. To see a list of 2016 celebrity deaths in music, go here: http://www.tributes.com/celebrity/deaths/Music.

 

More About the Man Who Died

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On my last Saturday on the mountain, I was working at the parking lot when Mr. Jack, one of the sheriff’s department volunteers, pulled in. Mr. Jack is about eighty years old, has totally white hair, and likes to talk…a lot. I don’t exactly cultivate friendships with cops (even volunteer cops), but I try to stay on friendly terms with Mr. Jack.

We chatted for a few minutes about it being the end of the season before I asked him if he had heard anything else about the dead man I’d found in a pickup truck the week before. (Read about that experience here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/11/something-terrible/.) At first he said no, but then he said something, something, suicide.

I said something aloud, maybe oh, no! or maybe even damn!

Mr. Jack said, Oh, you didn’t know… I could tell he felt pretty bad about blurting the news out that way. Obviously, he thought I’d already heard.

He told me a note had been found in the truck. He didn’t say where. He didn’t tell me exactly what the note said, either (maybe he didn’t know), but whatever the note said, the sheriff’s department decided it meant the man had lit a charcoal fire in his tightly closed truck with the intent to kill himself. I suppose he succeeded, although I bet to his family, it felt like a failure.

Mr. Jack said the young man was only twenty-four.

I teared up. I couldn’t help it. I felt so sad for the young man and his family.

I’ve dealt with depression since I was a child. I’ve had suicidal thoughts at various times throughout my life. I know depression can be immobilizing. I know depression has kept me from achieving goals. I know times of suicidal thoughts are dark and scary times. So when I say I feel sad for the young man and his family, I don’t mean I feel sad in some abstract or theoretical way. I’ve felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t put one foot in front of the other, felt like I couldn’t go on. I’ve longed for oblivion. I don’t know what exactly this fellow was facing, but I have a pretty good idea of how he felt when he decided he just couldn’t make it through another day in this world.

To me, in most circumstances, folks who chooses suicide are not in their right mind. Barring terminal illness, I can’t see a mentally healthy person making such a choice. Many people have negative things to say about individuals who have ended their own lives. Because I’ve felt hopeless and useless and low myself, I have great compassion for people who’ve had suicidal thoughts, people who’ve attempted suicide, and people who’ve completed this desperate final task.

I keep thinking about IF I had crossed paths with the youmg man at some point before his death, would I have known he was in crisis? Would I have been able to say or do anything to help? Could I have stopped him from killing himself or at least helped him live one more day, maybe one day long enough to get over being suicidal? What could I have possibly done or said?

I wonder why I was the one who found the dead man. I know someone had to find him, and I was the logical person, since no one had been staying in that campground and I was the camp host on patrol. But was the Universe sending me a message? I know we humans tend to want to find meaning even where there is none, or maybe we simply overlay our own meaning where none was intended.

I’ve found a meaning in this experience. Whether the Universe sent the man to me to teach me this lesson, I don’t know. But if the Universe is saying something to me here, this is what I think it is: Don’t do that suicide shit, because someone is going to have to find you, and why would you wish that on anyone?

Point taken, Universe. Point taken.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline’s website (http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#) says,

The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, [as well as] prevention and crisis resources…

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

On the website, folks can click on the phone number in blue to Skype or on the word “CHAT” on the top left of the page to instant message with someone. I added the phone number to the contacts in my phone.

 

 

 

Something Terrible

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Something terrible happened.

A young man died

and I found his body.

I woke up Thursday feeling kind of off. I still had enough sick-time hours to cover my workday, so I left the campground I was babysitting and drove the few miles to my campground. I spent the day working on my book and taking down my privacy tent and generally resting up for the weekend. After eating dinner around 4:30, I felt well enough to put on my uniform and check-in some campers who’d just arrived. As I prepared to drive back to the campground I had to babysit, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been to the group campground I was responsible for since the previous morning. So after emptying the iron ranger at the parking lot, I headed over to the group campground.

I didn’t see the pickup truck until I was on the road running through the middle of the group campground. It was parked as far to the left side of the road as possible. It was still partly in the road, but there was just enough room for a vehicle as large as my van to pass it.

I thought the pickup probably belonged to a hunter. It was deer season, and hunters in pickups were all over the place. I thought the hunter had left the truck there and had gone out past the meadow and into the trees to look for a buck.

I noticed a bag of charcoal in the back of the truck. It had been opened, some of the charcoal removed, then the top edge rolled closed, In addition to telling the hunter s/he was parked in a $126 per night campground, I wanted to make sure s/he knew charcoal fires were prohibited.

I didn’t think I would actually talk to the person who’d driven the truck into the campground. I thought I’d end up leaving a courtesy notice under a windshield wiper, but I decided to try to make personal contact before I wrote out a notice.

Hello! Hello! I called out when I left the van. I looked around the campground, but I didn’t see anyone walking about or sitting at a picnic table.

I approached the passenger side of the truck and peered through the dusty window. To my surprise, I saw someone sitting in the driver’s seat. Judging from the person’s short hair and flat chest, the person was male. His face was unlined, young. He seemed to be sleeping—eyes closed, mouth slightly open—although the position of his head and necked looked extremely uncomfortable.

I knocked on the glass of the passenger side window with a series of knuckle tingling thumps—no gentle taps for this camp host in a hurry. The young man’s eyelids did not flutter. His shoulders did not twitch.

Wow! I thought. That kid’s really sleeping hard!

I had a new idea.

I went back to my van and sounded the horn. Honk! Honk! Honk!

Then I laid on the horn for several long seconds—Hooooonnnnnkkkkkk!!!

I walked back over to the truck and peered through the dusty window again. The young man had not moved. At this point I started getting worried.

I rapped loudly on the passenger side window again but saw not a flicker of movement.

I began to focus on my attention on the young man’s chest.

Throughout my nervous life, I’ve concentrated on so many chests—those belonging to children and pets I was caring for, those belonging to the boyfriend I hoped would die in the night and the boyfriends I hoped would live. Always, if I stared at the chest long enough, always, the chest would eventually move. This time though, the breath had run out. I saw no rise, no fall, no movement, no nothing.

I beat on the window with the flat of my fist. Bam! Bam! Bam!

No response. No movement of the young man’s chest.

I thought I should try knocking on the driver’s side window. Maybe the young man was just a really deep sleeper. Maybe the young man was chemically altered. (But his chest wasn’t moving. I knew his chest wasn’t moving. I knew what it meant that his chest wasn’t moving.) I tried to get to the driver’s side window, but the truck was parked up against trees and brush and there was no clear space to easily slip through.

I went back to my van and honked the horn, then laid on it again. When I got back to the truck, the young man had not moved a muscle. Although I was beginning to have to believe he was dead, I pounded on the window a few more times; of course, I received no response.

I stood there and wondered what I should do.

I’ve seen enough cop shows on TV and read enough mystery novels to know I did not want to be the hapless individual who stumbles upon a murder scene and destroys evidence or gets accused of the crime. This didn’t look like a crime scene, but what did I know? I didn’t want my fingerprints all over everything.

Should I try to do CPR on this guy? I haven’t had CPR training in nearly twenty years. Would I remember what to do? Better question: Would CPR do this guy any good? I remember reading or hearing somewhere that CPR can sometimes keep a person alive until EMTs arrive on the scene, but CPR alone is probably not going to save anyone’s life. Even if I got past the brush and dragged the young man out of the truck and performed CPR on him…No professional medical person of any kind was likely to happen down a winding dirt road and into the group campground to take over from me and save this guy’s life.

I decided the best thing I could do was call 911.

Of course, I was nowhere near a telephone. So I jumped in my van and drove fifteen miles to the campground where my boss was stationed. There was a landline there. I drove as fast as I dared on those mountain curves. (Slow down. I’m in a hurry, I  heard a former co-worker quote her grandmother.)

When I arrived at the campground, my boss wasn’t there. The camp host didn’t know where he was or when he’d be back. I was on my own.

I called my boss’s cell phone first and left a message on his voice mail saying I’d found someone I thought was dead and was calling 911.

The 911 call was a farce. The dispatcher had me spell my name but still got it wrong when she read the letters back to me. She asked me the last time I’d been in the campground, and I said between 7am and 9am the day before. She said, So 10am yesterday? Was she even listening to me? Finally, she asked if I could go back to the campground to guide the first responders to the body.

Yes, I said. I can do that.

I sat at the end of the road to the campground for nearly an hour before a deputy arrived. He had me drive in first, while he followed behind. I parked in front of the truck and got out of the van. The interior of the truck was dark, and I couldn’t see the young man in the driver’s seat. I hoped he’d woken up, left the truck, walked out into the meadow to take a leak or shoot a deer, or anything at all, really. I was totally willing to look like a fool for calling 911 if only the young man could be alive.

The officer shined his flashlight into the cab of the truck. The young man was still there.

He hasn’t moved, I said softly.

The officer tried to open the passenger side door. Locked.

Then he squeezed between the truck and the trees and the brush and tried the driver side door. Unlocked. He opened the door and the overhead light came on. I saw the officer reach in and put his fingers on the young man’s neck to check for a pulse.

In a few moments, the officer stepped from the side of the truck and said to me, He is deceased.

Then the officer rummaged around in the back of the dead man’s truck. He told me there was a small charcoal grill behind the passenger seat. He said it had evidence of charcoal that had been lit, but whether the young man had been trying to kill himself or stay warm, he didn’t know.

Medical personnel arrived and the officer and the EMT both squeezed between the truck and the trees to look at the dead man. They managed to get the door open and the overhead light was on again. The officer pointed out the charcoal grill and said he thought the man had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

If carbon monoxide had killed him, his face would be red, the EMT said. Carbon monoxide poisoning would make his face red like a tomato, the EMT said.

I can vouch for the fact that his face was not red at all.

The deputy and the EMT agreed the young man must have died from suffocation. The fire used up all the oxygen in the tightly closed truck, and the young man had nothing left to breathe.

The EMT left, and the deputy took my statement. I told him I had a group scheduled to arrive in the campground the next afternoon. He said the mobile morgue was on its way and the body and the truck would be going in the morning.

I went back to the campground where I was spending the night. I felt empty and old. I kept remembering how the young man’s face looked while I was trying to wake him. I know it’s a cliché to say I kept seeing his face, but it’s true.

I don’t know if I should write about what happened. It seems so personal, not so much for me as for him. Should I write about a stranger’s death? I was there, for part of it at least, so now this death is a part of my story too.

Please, if you’re going to leave a comment on this post, please be compassionate. I don’t want to read anything negative about how this young man died. I don’t want anyone telling me what I should have done. I did the best I could under the circumstances. I think the young man probably did the best he could too. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but this time, please share the negative ones with someone else.