Friday, July 20, 2012

On Death and Loss

Soldiers Mourning the Death of a Friend
Korean War 1950-1953
You may wonder what sent me down this path. Oddly enough it started with a post by Buck over at Exile in Portales, a post, oddly enough, that was about Facebook. But the topic of Neptunus Lex was raised and that kinda sent me spinning wildly out of control. I've recovered control of my mental aircraft and am again flying straight and level. All systems are in the green, normal flight has been resumed.

But it got me to thinking about certain things. Things I do not like to think about. Nevertheless, I do think about these things from time to time. So bear with me.

Death is a fact of life, we all must face it someday. But premature death, death before one's time? That gets to me.

That shooting spree out in Aurora, Colorado? That's senseless, absolutely senseless. And senseless death gets to me most of all. Why, oh why do these things happen?

In my 24 years in the Air Force I only experienced the death of a buddy on one occasion. That was enough for me and I thank God it only happened once.

This was while I was stationed at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, in Germany. It was on a weekend, I remember it clearly, like it was yesterday. The phone rang, it was a fellow sergeant. His first words were, "I think you might want to sit down before I go any further." The alarms go off, you know, you just know that something bad has happened.

Yup, a buddy had been on his way home to visit his parents. He was in a traffic accident. He was dead.

Stefan was a sweet kid, smart as a whip and a good comrade. Also something of a minor celebrity in our outfit. And at this point I have to clarify that this was a NATO unit. NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an international organization and our outfit, the Mission Support Wing, part of the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force E-3A Component, was truly international.

The wing was made up of military personnel from the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Greece, Italy and Turkey. We also had a number of civilians from the UK.

Stefan's celebrity was due to the fact that he was an Ossie. That is, he was born and raised in East Germany. The former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), you know, those folks who were the Bad Guys during the Cold War. Of course, I was in Germany after Reunification. It was all one Germany then, but Stefan was the first to be assigned to us from the East. Hence his minor celebrity status.

When he finally arrived, we discovered that he didn't have two heads, he didn't look any different from the rest of us. He was just a guy. A really good guy.

And then he was gone, dead, never again would we see him, hear him or interact with him. It was over and there were no do-overs. Can't we go back in time and undo this? No, we can't.

Now I'm a Christian, an actual real-live practicing Christian. Go to church most every Sunday. Heck, I'm a Deacon in my American Baptist Church. My faith tells me that death is not the end. It's only a transition. But I have to tell you, it still hurts like hell when it happens to someone you know. For me it hurts when it happens to people I don't know, but care about. You know, like those brave men and women of our Armed Forces who go out there and put it all on the line for us. For you and me. Cops and fire-fighters fall into that category for me as well. They put it on the line for us, to protect us from criminals and fires. Who can forget those first responders who lost their lives on 9/11? I can't.

At the end of 2009, my company informed me that I would be loaned out to a different part of the company. I would be living and working away from home for most of each week. Damn, I thought I was done with that stuff when I retired from the Air Force! Apparently not.

It kind of sucked but I got used to it. After all, I did get to go home every weekend. A much better deal than the kids out at sea or deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan get. So it was tolerable.

Then the second month of my stint "up north", my Dad got sick, really sick. The very last time I was able to talk with my Dad was from my hotel room. He sounded sick but had hopes of getting better. Within a week he was in the hospital. Before I could get up to New Hampshire to see him, his pain was so bad that the doctor's kept him sedated. He was in that twilight world where many wind up as the medical profession tries desperately to make them well again.

I went home and went back to work. Hoping against hope that somehow he would get better and that again we would be able to have a beer together and share a laugh.

A week after I had visited him, on a Sunday after church, my Mom called. Things were not good, things were really bad and could I come up to New Hampshire as soon as possible? Of course Mom, I'll get there as fast as I can.

Apparently the medical staff were planning to take my Dad off the respirator and were waiting for me to get there before doing so. There was no more hope.

I arrived. My Mom was there, my two brothers and my oldest kid brother's wife were there. The medical staff came in after a while. Seems there had been another emergency elsewhere in the ICU which had kept them busy.

They did their thing, took my Dad off the respirator. They also, for the most part, had shut down the monitors attached to my Dad. Except for the heart rate monitor. I guess they figured that none of us would be paying any attention to that. Sound was off, but the trace was still running.

Shortly after they had disconnected my Dad, he opened his eyes for a brief moment. His eyes looked foggy, that look people get when they have so much morphine in them that they are conscious, but not really all there.

Things got really quiet. I looked up at the heart monitor, the trace was flat, no activity. The label next to the trace read "
asystole". Dad was gone. No one else in the room knew it at that precise moment. But I knew that my Dad, the guy who taught me how to throw a baseball, the guy who took me hunting and fishing, the guy who made sure I had a roof over my head and plenty to eat, was gone. My Dad was dead.

That was the 28th of February, 2010. It sucked and it hurt. As time went by though, I started to realize that my Dad had lived a full life. A good life. We would miss him. But he had lived to 81 years old. Not everyone gets that many years. And my Dad had made the most of those years.

Fast forward to two years and a week later. March 7th, 2012.

I get to my cubicle at work and fire up my computer. As I always did, I went to Neptunus Lex. Best blog evah!

What's this? Why is Whisper posting today? Lex didn't mention anything about that. Why is there a picture of a missing man formation?

Ah shit.

It was like getting punched in the gut. All the air went out of me. Lex is dead?

Unexpected and premature. That describes the loss of my friend and blogging mentor Carroll "Lex" LeFon. And at about the same time of year that my Dad had died. Two years before. That hit me hard, real hard.

So yeah, Death sucks. But it comes to us all, it affects us all in one way or another. We need to deal with it as best we can.

I know this is way different from the stuff I normally post. But I needed to do this, it's been cathartic for me. Thanks for bearing with me, thanks for sticking with it to the end.

And now, apropos of nothing, a link to a video that I like. Yesterday I watched a video on somebody's blog about a helicopter dropping another helicopter (wish I could remember where, guess I'm having a "senior moment"). At any rate, I really liked the music used for the video. I listened to the lyrics and, through the magic of Google, discovered that it was a tune by Metallica. Though I'm not a big fan, I like some of their stuff. I really liked this song. It's not a happy song, but I like it and it matches my mood today. Check it out.

Metallica - The Day That Never Comes [Official Music Video] - YouTube


  1. Well said, Sarge. You might have needed to get this out of yer system, but we who read it got something, too. Something good.

    I'll not go on and on, except to say I've lost friends, I've lost my Dad, and the most recent was losing Lex. We ALL know what a loss Lex was.

    1. Thanks Buck. Yup, this stuff has been brewing inside for far too long. Getting it out there did help. Appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment. It means a lot.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)