We have had two very difficult weeks here at Martin Oaks Cemetery and Crematory in Lewisville, Texas.
When you operate a deathcare service, it’s customary to witness the full range of emotions associated with a passing — but this time, we weren’t providing care for a third party, rather we were in the position of directly suffering the loss.
Within a span of less than six days, two long-term, close friends, both of whom we knew personally and professionally, passed away. The second loss was particularly painful, as it was both sudden and unexpected: additionally, it struck down someone far too young to die.
As we have often mentioned in the space, one of the cruelest (and most difficult to accept) deaths is when someone relatively young expires with no forewarning. Processing that abrupt extinction is arduous: shock, sorrow, anger, messy and hard feelings press in from all sides.
As some say, death is analogous to an amputation — a surprise passing is more analogous to ripping a branch from a tree. It is not a clean cut. Like a sudden blow, the impact is instantly devastating.
The bereaved face an immediate life change — a change that cannot be reversed. Depending on the depth and length of the relationship you have with the deceased, the grief process kicks in with a force akin to a knockout punch.
Part of grief is a protest — something has happened that you don’t want. Getting life back to normal isn’t possible with the old normal. Order has been changed, a new normal has to be established.
One of our recent losses was very charged: this was someone we had known for over 29 years, someone we stayed in close contact with up until the day he was felled by a heart attack (a condition which seemed impossible for someone so physically fit).
Going to the funeral over the weekend, we, predictably, were flooded with memories.
One of those memories was connected with a notorious historical event.
On February 26, 1993, we attended a meeting together in a conference room of a bank in lower Manhattan. The meeting began at 11 am eastern time.
If memory serves, shortly after 12:30pm, security guards interrupted and demanded that we evacuate the building immediately — the World Trade Center, just a few blocks away, was under some kind of attack.
The four in our party emerged from the bank to find the streets in pandemonium. People were literally running for their lives: we hurried to the corner and could clearly see smoke pouring from the north tower of the Trade Center.
The atmosphere was surreal. Here was an event beyond imagination unfolding on a wintery day when the seasonal gloom only served to heighten the foreboding. A true sense of panic had overtaken the financial heart of our nation.
News pictures of the events really did not capture the experience we had that day.
There was more smoke coming from the building than we have ever seen on film; the street scene, where people were fleeing in palpable fear, was very similar to what happened on a larger scale on 9/11 — we have never seen those images that were a part of that day.
And the omnipresent sirens which, at times, were deafening, emphasized the both the seriousness and the terror of the moment. As did the red rotating lights from the throng of emergency vehicles.
After running a few streets to the east, we were able to find a cab that carried us north away from the assault. As we pulled away, it seemed almost inevitable that an explosion was likely: fortunately, that did not happen.
Our friend discussed these events with us many times during the intervening years. Although we have personal recollections of our relationship that are much more important, being present during that first World Trade Center attack is something we will always share, something that death cannot obliterate.
Such is the nature of grief.