Sunday, November 11, 2007

Anniversary: Dying In Your Next Moment

I wrote this post a year ago. I think it's important to remember -- especially today -- all those that we have loved and lost, regardless of how we lost them. Rest in peace, friend. You are still missed two years on.


It's close to the one year anniversary of the death of a friend who lost a struggle against mother nature and drowned.

I've been thinking of my friend's final moments a lot and I believe that I have some understanding of it all.

Have any of you ever thought you were about to die in your next moment on earth? What went through your mind?

My experience was being caught in a rip current off of the coast of Africa. We had been enjoying a day at the beach and decided to go for a swim in the Indian Ocean.

We floated on our backs, staring at the African sky above us and feeling not a care in the world.

M, who was floating beside me, said something to me and I righted myself in the water to reply. I instantly knew that we were in trouble. Not only had we drifted far from the shore, but there was a giant wave preparing to crash over our heads.

I went under as the wave hit and then felt myself being pulled by a strong current. But I surfaced, gasping for air, and saw two things that scared me even further: M was now much further from me than he had been and there was a second wave preparing to crash over my head. Again, I went under and again I felt the current pulling me. I fought the current and tried to swim back to shore (big mistake - I now know to swim parallel to the shore, not toward it, when caught in a rip current) and I knew that I was in a situation that I didn't have the slightest idea how to cope with.

This time when I surfaced, M was much closer to me. I vividly recall looking at him with what I am sure was panic and saying "oh, M, I need help". The look in his eyes changed instantly as I think he became immediately aware that I was not kidding.

Another wave crashed over my head and forced me under the water. I was struggling to get enough air in the moments between waves and I was beginning to panic. I realised that I was being pulled further from the shore.

The next time that I surfaced, M was somehow right there beside me. He was speaking to me, trying to calm me down. It wasn't working. The next wave crashed over both of us and we went under the water together.

I remember opening my eyes and seeing M in front of me and he was holding onto my hand. Tightly. But for reasons that I still don't understand, I was being pulled further out and he wasn't. We struggled to hold on to each other's hands and we kept very direct eye contact for the entire time that we were under the water.

And then my hand slipped from his and I was being rushed away from him. I felt a complete loss of hope combined with an overwhelming rush of love for M and the life that we had together. It was literally all slipping out of our hands. The thought that went through my mind? "No! This isn't fair! Why am I going to die and he gets to live?"

I'll let you make of that thought what you like because I am still now, so many years later, trying to understand it myself. I feel immensely guilty for thinking it.

The series of events that followed are a blurr for me. I gave up. I remember M and his friend S coming to my rescue together. S is a trained life guard and knew enough to get me moving parallel to the shore to escape the rip current. I say moving because I was a panicked person preparing to die at this point, so swimming was not on my radar screen.

The next really clear memory that I have is finding myself magically back on the beach, on my hands and knees, gasping for air.

I looked up and saw M. He smiled at me with a twinkle in his eye and said "wow, that was a close call". And I actually laughed. We then calmly packed up our things and headed to the local pub for a stiff drink.

M and I never spoke of it again and I never loved him the same again. Because it became a previously unrealised impassioned love. I frequently think of that change when I recall the eye contact that we maintained and the physical contact that we lost in the midst of the rip current.

I was lucky in every way. My friend died alone in the ocean in the middle of the storm. I have no doubt that she knew that she was going to die; it just became a question of when. We know that she fought for a few hours (horrible details omitted). We don't know when the when became a reality for her.

It haunts me that she died alone. She didn't have a chance to speak with or make eye contact with the one(s) that she loved and, when she finally gave up, there was no one there to get her to the beach and onward for a good stiff drink.

Nobody should die alone. Under any circumstance. But to die alone with panic and fear and an overwhelming loss of hope ... well, it simply is too much to continue to think about.

Rest in peace, friend. You are missed.


dr. whoo? said...

What a beautiful and powerful post. I am sorry for your loss.

Cathy said...

Dr. K....I was very caught up in this story while reading it...I'm very sorry about your friend. Dying alone would be a terrible thing..

Your experience must have been horrible. I have always had a fear of drowning.

My Prayers are with you!

Artemis said...

What an raises all sorts of questions in my mind about "our purpose" and our time on this planet. My thoughts are with you.

Artemis said...

I tagged you for a meme - interesting concept of evolution in cyberspace. Thanks for playing!

medstudentitis said...

My thoughts are with you on this difficult day.

`jen said...

i have read this a few times over the past couple of days... strong words. and lots of good lessons in there. thank you.

Pieces of Mind said...

This is so compelling, and really heartbreaking.

I know we are not supposed to be afraid of death, but who among us doesn't fear *how* we and the people we care about will die?

Shalom for your friend's soul... and for you.