Friday, August 17, 2007

"Without Breath"*

My next door neighbor died last Saturday in the early morning. He was 26. It was a tangle of sirens and diesel engines, but not so big as the last early morning, back in November, when there were six fire trucks and multiple EMT rigs, because they had such a heck of a time getting this big man down the steep and narrow staircase, and off to the hospital, where he was treated for a respiratory infection.

Both times his young wife, Zoë, awakened to find him blue. This time she couldn't get him breathing again.

I was dreaming of Tex being shoeless in the car and a fire truck, which obstructed my path and was digging a hole in the street I was trying to drive on, even though I was on the passenger side. Because naturally, fire engines are equipped with back ho buckets. Perfectly logical. Maybe it was the consideration of that oddity that knocked me into consciousness, just before the emergency vehicles pulled up out front.

I've written before about this, but had no heart to post it - I feel so much and so little about all this, all at the same time. What I mean is, there is a lot of feeling about it, and even for them, but it's not a personal loss in a sense. Most of what I feel might be strictly selfish, about the fear it creates in me, about my dismay at people who won't take care of themselves, or worse, about people who are in relationships who don't seem really to want to stick around. It's not a condemnation, really, it's a sadness. When you bind your life to someone else, isn't part of your duty to them one of preserving your health the best that you can, to prevent undue suffering? Adam was young and in pretty poor shape. Overweight, chain-smoker, no evidence of other substance abuse, and as sweet and polite a guy as any other I've known from a distance. Adam had a problem with sleep apnea. Maybe it was "his time to go," as people like to say. Maybe he could have chosen a different path. It's not my place to say, and I wish him well on his next journey.

Some teachers of mine have instructed me that we have spiritual contracts with all the individuals we encounter in our lifetime. Sometimes there is an agreement that such a loss will occur. I know it is a valuable lesson, I've been schooled in it several times, but failed to graduate to the level of non-attachment. I'm not certain that's the goal I have in mind.

Of course, this isn't really about me, which is why I've demurred the post for almost seven days now. I can tell you what it was like to watch her looking shell-shocked as they loaded his body into the coroner's van, how she let me hold her hand, and hug her, just like last November, and how his mother was wailing and one of the daughters looked embarassed about it, and the cop who was quite kind, but more interested on talking to me about my massive dog and how I should buy him some "Pawsicles," because they are healthy ice cream for canine pets. Everyone deals with grief and the proximity to death differently.

And just now a knock has come on the door, it's Jo, the friend from England, letting me know about the funeral, services and the state Zoë's in, which is no state at all, it seems.

I've meant to post this photograph for some time, now. I took it on my coastal trip last December. It's from a memorial for some fishermen lost on the Oregon coast, some time ago. We live in a desert here, but it seems appropriate to me, all the same. It is not credited, and I cannot discover the author.

(*apnea - Latin, from the Greek, apnoia, Indo-Euro root: -pneu. Adam was the first man, but "red man," literally translated. Zoë means "life.")


GrizzBabe said...

They have machines that enable someone with sleep apnea to sleep without endangering their health. Unfortunately, it is illegal to buy the machines without a doctor's prescription. And you usually can't get a doctor's prescription without undergoing a very expensive sleep study.

Could a lack of good health insurance be a party to this untimely death?

My heart goes out to his widow.

steve said...

Lost my good friend billy to the effects of sleep apnea...that was in 1996 and I have not been to a funeral since...I don't "do" Funerals anymore...
Nice post...

Grant Miller said...

I wrote that.