Day 35, Miles Ridden Today: 55 Miles Ridden Overall: 1,705 Camping: $0 We are staying overnight at Peach Bottom Inn in Peach Bottom, PA at $68, out of pocket expense.
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I Know How I Want to Die ...
I wonder what age we are that we begin to think about our own mortality. I remember being blissfully unaware of mine until about junior high school, when I started reading newspapers and watching the news. I wondered if my family would ever be in harm’s way like the ones I saw in news reports about faraway places that were constantly in wars.
The idea of dying really came to the forefront of my consciousness in high school when one of my classmates, Eddie Schmidt, died in a motorcycle accident. He was a quiet boy with a beautiful smile and wavy hair who sat in front of me in my graphic arts class. On a Friday evening, he picked up his dirt bike from repair and while testing it out, the fateful accident occurred. Most of us learned about it during our standard Friday night trip to the mall and some from Monday morning’s announcement by our principal. It was a shock to our otherwise invincible attitudes of ourselves.
Within the next 3 years, our class also lost Patty Maher and Stuart Kavesh. Patty was a ball of fun with flowing blond hair and a giant smile. She helped some of the sports teams with their equipment and often rode her bike home following games. She was struck by a car one evening and suddenly gone. Stuart was a tall, self-confident and smart guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stuart didn’t survive a car accident that seriously injured 3 of his good friends. Before we graduated, we also lost a vice principal, who drowned trying to save a student on a school club trip to Puerto Rico.
Although I knew Eddie, Patty and Stuart, they were not part of the small circle of friends I spent most of my high school years with. When I heard of their deaths, I felt sorrow for their families and friends. As a parent now, I can’t imagine how their parents made it through such a tragedy.
About 3 years ago, I received word that my childhood friend, James, had died in a motorcycle accident. Although James and I had not stayed in touch after high school, I still cared about him and treasured our shared childhood experiences. I was in Hawaii at the time and struggled to find any words that would comfort his parents. I knew I wouldn’t make it through a phone call and decided to write them a letter to express my condolences.
While reading an online news article about James’ death, I learned more about his post high school life. He had moved from Jersey to Florida, which he always said he wanted to do. His grandmother often took him to Florida during breaks from school and he always returned with great stories about this warm, sunny place. He had become an emergency response paramedic and spent his days saving lives and helping the injured in accidents much like his own. Although Florida does not require cyclists to wear helmets, James was wearing one during his crash with an oncoming car and he had the right of way.
The news article said he left behind a wife and a daughter and that it was his long time coworkers who were the first on the scene. I found comfort in the fact that he was surrounded by his work friends at what must have been the scariest moments of his life. I cried for his family and hoped that he didn’t suffer long. I still cry every now and again when I think of him.
Shortly after high school, while visiting a friend in Glassboro, NJ, I had the overwhelming need to call my mom, an inner voice that would not be quieted. Remember that these were the days before cell phones were common and we all relied on answering machines and pagers to get messages to one another when we weren’t by our home phones. When my mom answered the phone, I knew by her voice that something was terribly wrong. She managed to utter, “Daddy’s dead”. Although I called my own father, Dad, I knew that she meant her father had died because in her southern way, she always called him “Daddy”. I left to be with my mom and try to comfort her.
The next morning, she and my older sisters drove to Kentucky in order to be there in time for his funeral. My father, brother and I each stayed in Jersey; they for their job obligations, me, unwilling to see my beloved grandfather in a casket. My mother understood and to this day, I always remember my grandfather in his porch swing with a cold glass of lemonade my grandmother made just for him.
When they returned, my mother and I shared a long tearful conversation in which she told me about the funeral and how my grandmother leaned over the casket and kissed him goodbye. They had been together almost their entire lives, having married when she was about 15 and he 17. They had met at a church function but seldom saw one another because they went to different schools. They discovered that the paths they each took to school crossed one another but at a different time of the morning and late afternoon. They wrote letters to one another and placed them in a nook in the tree where their paths crossed and their romance blossomed from there.
My grandfather was 83 when he died. He died in a fashion as I hope to die myself one day. Considering we are all a genetic mix of our parents and their pasts, I have a 50/50 shot of either living long and dying suddenly or if my father’s side wins out dying by 65 after a long, painful illness or disease. Cross your fingers that I don’t just look like my mom’s side of the family.
When my mother told me how my grandfather died, I truly felt comforted. My grandparents have lived on the same farm since my mother was a young child. His cash crop was tobacco (although he never smoked nor chewed it) and he raised and sold cows, chickens and pigs. Practically everything they ate came from the crops he and my grandmother planted and cultivated, or from the eggs their chickens laid and sometimes from the animals they slaughtered themselves. They worked together in practically every aspect of their married life and were also each other’s best friend. They were seldom apart.
My grandfather was in his 70’s before the doctor discovered an issue with his heart. Although he lived a very healthy lifestyle, he had fluid that occasionally formed around his heart and he had medication to keep it in check. He never took much medicine before that but would say, “That’s for my ticker” whenever you came up on him as he was taking one of the pills.
Days before he passed away, he told my mom over a phone call how he felt he was getting a chest cold. My mom didn’t worry much about it since he sounded good and a chest cold in February was not an unlikely circumstance. On the following Saturday morning, after feeding the cows, my grandfather was walking up through the grape arbor when he called for my grandmother. My grandmother rushed out the back door and ran to him, catching him as he fell to the ground. As she held him she said she ought to go in and call for help. He asked her to stay with him. He said he knew he was dying and wanted her to just hold him in her arms. She did.
With tears in their eyes, they exchanged their final goodbyes and then my grandmother called my Aunt Lily who sent an ambulance. They found my grandmother cradling his head in her lap on the cold ground outside. They took my grandfather away and she didn’t see him again until she kissed him goodbye one last time at his funeral, which also happened to be my mother’s birthday. Following the funeral, my grandmother pulled my mother aside and told her she hadn’t forgotten that it was her youngest child’s birthday. My grandmother, was truly a good mother, and a remarkable woman.
I’ve been so fortunate to have found a love that is like what she and my grandfather shared. When I do die, I can only hope that I’m lucky enough to share my final moments with my husband. I cannot imagine a finer way to leave this world.