Sunday, January 15, 2017

Honoring Death to Remember to Live

Every decade or so I experience a “not so great” year and generally it coincides with a major milestone chronologically in life…30, 40 and this year, 50.  2016 was such a year.  It seems, as I scroll through social media “friends” and “acquaintances”, 2016 was not a year many of us wish to repeat. 

It was the year of death… many bright stars leaving this world full of gaping black holes.  David Bowie, Glenn Fry, Prince music I grew up listening.  Heroes, by Bowie, is still one of my all time favorite songs.  George Michael, on Christmas Day?

Muhammad Ali, the world of boxing and sport will never be the same, an iconic hero gone forever.

Gene Wilder, Mr. Willie Wonka, devoted husband of Gilda Radner, you will be missed.

It seemed like every week the world woke up to another death.  Was it really more than we were prepared to stomach for a year?  The “In Memoriam” for 2016 was a full-length television segment.  Was it really more than most years?  Or was the pallor over the year in general making it seem more?

However, the death that most affected me this year was of someone who was only an acquaintance.  Keith Joe was a friend of my sister’s.  They went to medical school together years ago and reconnected during my sister’s divorce several years ago.  This time was her most difficult era of life, as I’m sure all of us who have experienced divorce would agree.  For those of us who battle the darkness the pain can be amplified exponentially.  Keith got my sister out of bed every day and refused to let her wallow in her well of self-pity.  My sister said, “he talked a lot about himself.  He always did, but that is what helped me.  He didn’t let me to talk about my problems and me; we needed to talk about Keith and his next adventure.”  Little by little, while enjoying the Keith like adventures, my sister rejoined the world. 

Keith was a strong, fit, young man of 42.  He was diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer.  He was diagnosed in October and dead on December 11th.

One day you’re rock climbing, the next it’s over.

Keith had come to a screening of Rising from Ashes in Washington DC years ago.  We all went out to dinner after and I remember just having a really great time with friends and family.  My sister was in DC and my friend Molly who I met in Rwanda when I first moved here.  Molly and Keith talked non-stop. 

(Washington DC World Bank 2013:  Kim, Danielle & Molly)

The next time I saw Keith was at my sister’s wedding in June of 2015.  He flew to Germany for her wedding.  That’s what friends do….real friends.

And then he was gone.

Time is always there for every one of us, however, rarely do we think about the end: the finishing up of our time in the world.  I have thought about it every day since he left, because frankly, healthy 42-year-old men shouldn’t just die.  Not a man who has two kids, friends and family who adore him and even acquaintances who were stunned and deeply saddened by his passing.

Today, January 15th is his memorial in Washington D.C.  My sister is there, as is Molly.  I spoke with my sister this morning.  The waves of emotion are strong.

When Keith was nearing his grand exit, I kept reading his Facebook page.  There is no doubt, this young man positively influenced so many lives.  He was loved….deeply.  If half of the people I know said about me what Keith’s friends said about him I would have had a well-lived life.

His death has made me so very conscious of time.  I’m 50. Yesterday I was 18.  There are many changes coming in the next few months.  Changes that I need to make, it’s time, because frankly, who knows how much time we all have. 

Yesterday, today and moving through the time I have left, I will think about how my time on earth affects those around me, those I love, those I simply need to keep a distance from, those who have broken my heart and those I let go.  I will remember those I need to keep close, squeeze tighter and love more.  I will definitely laugh more.

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