January 04, 2006

Casual Death and Meaning

I'm familiar with familiar death, loss so severe that its magnitude alters human DNA. That's the kind of death I know best.

So when casual death presents itself, as in the death of a friend, not a very close friend, but a friend I've spent a few dozen hours with over the last three years, on and off, not the kind of friend to call for a shoulder to cry on, but, you know, to offer a ride to a party to, to spend an afternoon watching a football game with, sharing tacos, more of a friend's friend, but still, a friend--well when that less-than-knee-shattering death comes, I'm not sure what to do with it.

I don't know mild grief. Only the devastating kind.

I don't know where to put the smaller losses.

I'm talking about Joanne, a friend who died of a heart attack today, unexpectedly.

Well not totally unexpectedly, I mean, she'd had a stroke in previous years, but she'd been fine of late, and, well, really, yah, okay, unexpectedly would be the right word considering she was walking her dog and died on the sidewalk before she ever reached the hospital from what I've heard.

It's the kind of thing that makes people say, "Well I just saw that person XX ago!"

As if such sightings should render them safe.

I rationalize unfamiliar death. You can sort of see the process. This isn't how a normal person talks about the death of a friend. Even a not-best friend. Even on a blog. But it's how I'm telling you.

Joanne at her best was the earth-tanned and fit older women who loved New Mexico but was stuck here closer to family during her post-stroke years. She was also a woman who was never without her old english sheep dog. I mean never. Not for a second.

I've never seen a human being and an animal as tightly knit as these two. Bathroom, work, drive-thru, shopping--never apart. Joanne loved her Frosty and that dog worshiped her, anticipating every move and every mood.

Tonight Frosty is sitting with her muzzle on the front door knob of my other friend's house waiting for her best friend to come home. But she's not coming home.

In time, the dog will be okay as far as the day-to-day stuff goes--there are more than a couple of options for who'll take her in. Another friend, who has a friend who's a vet, says some dogs are so attached that they grieve themselves to death when their owner dies.

I picture what that kind of grief looks like, and there's the familiar kind I know well. I understand the dog's loss. My own loss, in this case, I don't have an opinion about. 'Cause I'm miswired that way.

So what I wanted to say is, Joanne wasn't a religious person. In fact she was raised Mormon and eventually 'got out' in conjunction with getting out of a bad marriage. She didn't want any big to-do when she died. Just to be cremated. So there won't be a service as far as we know.

I've talked about it with Jenna, who spent more than a few long walks with Joanne and her big hairy dog. Jenna was both surprised and sad to hear about Joanne's death. We decided to donate a little money to the ASPCA in Joanne's honor, because it seems like the right thing to do. That and a big box of biscuits for Frosty.

Okay, that's all I want to say about that.


1 comment:

Lynn said...

What an interesting post. I don't think I have ever thought about "casual death" like that before. But have been thinking a lot about something similar in my life that I have been going through and actually write about it today. Thanks for your insight. Cheers!