Saturday, July 14, 2012

Thoughts on Death and Dying

Sal DeRosa's birthday celebration - Service Club, Ft. George F. Meade, MD 1961


When I was young, in my twenties and thirties, I rarely thought about dying and death.  Now that I am seventy years old I often think about dying and death.

I've written about this subject before only to be chastised by a blogger friend (for whom I have much respect) who advised me not to dwell on dying and death.  However, he recently turned fifty (a mear child compared to my advanced years) and recently wrote his own blog post about death and dying.  That's what happens folks if you're fortunate enough to live long enough to reflect on death and dying.

I've also been thinking about this subject a lot lately because of two books I've been reading.  One is about prisoners of war during World War II in the Phillipines, specifically the Bataan Death March.  A survivor wrote the book.  It is amazing that so many underwent those hellish conditions because of their strong will to survive.

I also recently read a book about a Jewish woman from Poland who was a slave laborer for the Nazi's during World War II.  She also survived hellish conditions to write about her ordeal.  The overriding subject was her strong will to survive.

Right now a good friend of mine two parents, 94 and 92 years old respectively are in facilities near death.  He is dealing with that stressful situation as I write this.

The past few years man of my friends, former co-workers and relatives have died.  Quite a few younger than me.  A few weeks ago a very popular young gay man who I knew slightly was hit by a drunk driver in Rehoboth and his life ended in a flash.  Yes, I am quite aware of the fragility of life and the nearness of death especially at my age which is seventy.

At the top of this blog is a photo of a happy group of young people.  It was taken at Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland in 1961 (I think, I may be a year off).  It was at the Service Club for enlisted men.  The occasion was my friend Sal DeRosa's 26th birthday.



The man holding the knife to Sal's throat is John D. Bicking, Jr.

The laughing man seated to the far right was my good friend Ronald Hampton.

The man seated to Sal's right, behind the red-headed woman, was our friend Peter Puphsis.

In the back, second from the left, the tall guy with his eyes closed....that's me.  Still alive.

Oh the stories behind the folks in this picture.  That would be subject for many future blog postings but I'll stick with one subject on this blog posting, death.  All those people I mentioned are now dead.

All gone now


Ron and Sal were my two gay friends while I was in the Army.  They were the first gay people I met.  John Bicking and Peter Pupshis were straight but they didn't give a shit that we were gay.  We were all friends.  In fact, most of us "played the game" and had girl friends at the Service Club dances, thus the presence of women in this photo.

John Bicking knew that Sal and Ron were hot after him.  Of course none of us did anything about it in those days.  This was the Sixties remember?  The point I want to make was all the life and camaraderie that we had in spite of our differences.  Now those friends of mine are gone.

I don't know about most of the other people in the photo.  I assume they're gone too.  I seem to be the lone survivor.  Maybe I should feel guilty about that but I don't.  I feel that I have been chosen, for what I do not know.  All I know is that my time isn't over yet.

This photo and these names are but a very small representation of friends that are now gone.  I could fill many pages of photos of friends who I am also standing with in photos, who are now gone.  Yet I am left.

George Hadfield, my maternal grandfather - the only grandparent I ever knew


I remember something my grandfather told me when he was 86 years old, one year before he died.  He said  "Ronnie, the bad thing about getting old is that you lose all your friends.  I have no friends left." That statement has always stuck with me because I remember how sad I was for my grandfather when he said that.  He was a very gregarious and social man and towards the end he felt like the odd man out.  Sure, he had children and grandchildren and great grandchildren but his friends....gone.

The older I get the more I feel like the odd man out.  I still have some friends who are my age (mostly from school days) that I stay in contact with.  However, they seem to be dying with increasing frequency lately.  Each year I have to stock up on sympathy cards.

I feel like I'm rambling here, but I did want to write about this subject that has been on my mind a lot lately.

I do not fear death.  I think once we die there is a big void of which we are unaware.  Of course I realize I'm offending all those of you who subscribe to various religious theories.  I don't, they never made sense to me, no offense.

What I do fear is being alone when I die.  That is a real fear.  Secondly I fear being helpless and dependent on others while I'm hanging on to the last vestiges of my life.  I do not want anyone caring for me.  I do not want to end up wearing diapers when I die.  I don't want to die confused, in discomfort and pain.  I do not want to go that way.

Every day I take an afternoon nap.  Lately those naps have been longer and deeper.  I think, is that what death is like?  When I go will I see my friends again?

Remember that last scene from "Longtime Companion"?  It was one of those early AIDS films.  At the end all the friends who died of AIDS related diseases met again on the beach.  Oh how I hope that is what happens when I die.  That to me would be Heaven.

This is one of my rambling blog posts.  Stream of conscience babble.  No excuses.  I'm writing from my heart.

Do not feel sad for me.  I know I will die. We all will die someday.  We just don't know when.  But I do know I have lived the majority of my life already.  I'm on the downward slide.  I'm not getting any prettier. Less people are interested in me than ever before in my life because I am no longer attractive.  Now that I'm a SENIOR CITIZEN I am irrevocably in that class of doddering old fools.  I am rarely taken seriously by younger folk.  Bill keeps telling me to color my beard (it's white) so I don't look so old.  Hey, you can only hang on to the appearances of youth so long. At some point you have to give it up and accept that you're an OLD MAN.

I have my burial plot all picked out.  I'm on the side of a hill in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.  The small town in southeastern Pennsylvania where I grew up and have many fond memories.  The cemetery is called the Northwood Cemetery.  This year I'll buy my headstone.  I'm very organized that way.  Plus that is my gay gene coming out, I want just the right headstone.  At that cemetery is also buried John Bicking, the young guy who used to tease me and my friends Ron and Sal so much when we were young and gay (pun intended) in the Army.
The view of Downingtown my from my burial lot in Northwood Cemetery - nice view.

I don't know, did I make my point in this rambling blog?  Just some random thoughts on death and dying that have been invading my head this past year or so.

8 comments:

  1. anne marie in philly7:53 PM

    guess you are not gone yet because you have many lessons to impart.

    I still have 50 years left; 50 more years to challenge conventions and kick some ass! :)

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    1. You got that right Anne Marie! By the way, I just got off of FaceTime with our buddy Dr. Spo from Arizona. You have to get FaceTime so you can get on his list. I'm sure he would enjoy talking to you and you him. You are a delight. I always appreciate your comments!

      Ron

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    2. A moving and wise posting, Ron. (Yes, most of those who follow your blog will know the lovely Dr Spo - and wouldn't we both wish like anything that we could be his own young 50 again? - you even more than me, probably.)
      Just a couple of weeks ago I lost my last remaining friend in this country, he being at the relatively young age of 66, we knowing each other since the ages of 13/14 - and that break of a final link certainly brings the transitory nature of life home to one. All I have left now are blogger friends. Each is even more valued to me now than before - though even now I still haven't given up all hope of eventually meeting at least some of them.
      You write poignant words above of your own departed friends - and I can appreciate EXACTLY where you are coming from.
      Yes, dying is on my mind for a significant part of every day now, especially since I've suddenly slowed down markedly in this body which now only wants to move around creakily and wearily. But you have a greater right than me to voice all your thoughts freely so I'm increasingly living vicariously through your blogs, which I can understand so well.
      Thank you for articulating these matters so well, my friend.

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    3. Ray,

      Thank you very much for your generous compliments. I'm glad I was able to articulate the way I feel about aging. I'm not sad or depressed that my time will soon come to an end. Just facing the fact that I am entering a new (and final) phase of my life. This one I've been putting off for a long time. I think this last "chapter" will be interesting. I'm not a believer in the Afterlife but it is nice to think that I will see friends and relatives again, especially my little dogs. Comforting thoughts even though it may never happen.

      Ron

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  2. Writing about death certainly doesn't mean that you're "dwelling" on it. Our mortality is a grim reality, and sadly it's a fact that we all have to eventually face. You're right - - as we get older we think more about death, simply because it so often touches our lives. I am in my 50's and have already lost a surprisingly large number of friends and relatives.

    I had fifteen aunts and uncles and all of them are now deceased except for three (one of my aunts who remains has Alzheimer's). Both of my parents are deceased. Several of my friends from high school have recently died. The greatest love of my life, with whom I had an eight-year relationship in California, died last year.

    I don't mean to sound depressing, but it is a lonely and very sobering feeling when we start losing so many of those who were close to us.

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    1. Jon,
      Again you hit on exactly what I was saying in my posting. I see so many passing on around me, it reminds me of musical chairs. The music stops and so far there is a chair for me. However, the day will come when there will not be a chair for me. I'm not sad about it, I just have a realization that the end of my time isn't way that far off in the distance like it has been for most of my life. I think what concerns me more is the fact that while I'm living I will have lost most of those I have known well and I will be the odd man out, having outlived my usefulness. The loneliness is what I fear.
      Ron

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  3. I have a hunch you will bury us all. Our 19th century ancestors always kept death in mind, but they weren't morbid about it as we suppose they were; it was around them and kept them 'on their toes'. Remembering death I hope makes us live Life as well as can be - so when it comes we can say 'well done".

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    1. Dr. Spo,

      My plan is to outlive EVERYONE. However, I don't think I have much say over that. There is a date out there in the future with my name on it. We all have a DATE. In the meantime, I plan to keep ruffling feathers and getting most out of life that I can.

      Ron

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