Monday, January 25, 2010

Presumed Dead

I have an internal panic switch which is automatically activated whenever anyone I love, know, am briefly acquainted with, or maybe even have only heard about on the evening news is not where they are supposed to be. Any and all types of missing people are presumed dead, by me, immediately.

If this "missing person" is someone I love, my heart rate accelerates, my hands get sweaty, I tap my toes, and drum my fingers as I wait for the news that the person in question is dead. There is no doubt in my mind that the news will be delivered shortly, and I am an emotional nerve center on overload until my suspicions are either confirmed of denied.

Last week my coffee guy was missing from his normal daily location. This man is part of my daily life, and as such, not allowed to die. I call him Java and he has been one of my steadfast supporters as I grieved the loss of Phil. He is one of those people who just lets you be how and who you are...every single day. So, when he was not at his shop, I assumed he was dead. The panic sequence began, and I was a nervous wreck until I found him working on reorganizing his shop to meet new health code regulations. As soon his frame came into view I yelled out the window..."Java, I thought you were dead!" And because he knows me, he laughed and said, "I am right here, haven't I already told you I am not going anywhere?" Whew. That one lived.

As I was recounting the whole drama to Michael later in the day he asked why I came to the conclusion that the ONLY logical explanation for Java's absence was his untimely death. As I started to explain, I found myself fighting tears....

"The reason I assume everyone is dead when I can't find them is that one day four years ago a woman I didn't know called me from the side of the road to tell me my husband had been hit by a car. Even while I was rushing to the scene of the accident the thought that Phil would die never occurred to me. I was completely unprepared when his heart stopped. I felt cheated. Unfortunately, I am no longer naive to the fact that people die, every single day. And rarely does anyone expect it, so I refuse to walk around with rose colored glasses assuming everyone is alive! AND you should probably get used to it because I don't think I will ever get over it!"

Poor man. My soliloquy reminded me (and Michael too!) that after Phil's accident my concept of who dies, and when, was permanently changed. I am acutely aware that people die too young, accidents of all kinds happen way more often than most people realize, diseases kill people both quickly and slowly, and it is indeed possible to be shocked by your loved ones death even if you have been "expecting" it for days, weeks, months, or years. Most of the time I wish I didn't know all of this useful information, but understanding the fragility of life somehow grounds me. I find it nearly impossible to take life for granted.

So, this is my reality...if I love you, and you are missing, I will assume you are dead. I will try very hard not to freak out, or have a heart attack myself while waiting for news of your whereabouts, but I am not promising anything.


  1. I can very much relate to this, Michele. In my mind it's easier to presume the worst than assume all is fine and have your heart broken again. I also thought that there was no way my husband would die from his heart attack, and when he did, well no words can describe my sense of shock and disbelief. So now I assume the worst, as if to prepare myself. I don't want to be caught so off guard again.

  2. I used to react like that BEFORE Cliff died ... once I even rang every ER room along his route, and they were very tolerant of me ... one man even said it was a pleasure to alleviate my anxiety ... because it was so wonderful to hear how much I loved him!

    But afterwards ... it is different again. A friend just had a cancer scare (all clear now thankfully) and I was literally vomiting with fear and nerves ... and I had already been to her funeral in my imagination! That's what this experience does to you ... it teaches you that there is absolutely no certainty about ANYTHING in this world ... and when you have sat through that lesson, it is impossible not to panic.

    Thanks for sharing - it makes me feel a little less OCD-like xx

  3. It is amazing how death changes your life. I, too, look at it differently now. Before my Kevin died I never thought about death and I never had anyone I knew die. Now, I think about how any moment could be my last...or the last of anyone I know.

  4. it sucks to live this way. i would rather be totally ignorant of these facts.

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Michele, because I do the same thing. If my parents are running late bringing Anna home, I start to panic and worry that they're dead in a ditch somewhere. I've worried/panicked like this for at least 3 years now, and it hasn't really gotten better or abated over time either. I wonder sometimes if, like you, it's the product of death by accident versus physical death.

    And it's not just when people run late. I often worry that people have bad news when they call me. And then it turns out everything's fine, of course, and I was the weirdo who read disaster and bad news into a mundane invitation for a get-together.

    It probably goes without saying that I was NEVER like this before Charley died. And even when Charley was 2 hours late getting home from his race and I was starting to panic, it was merely that he was hurt badly--never that he'd already been dead for 2 hours, dead in a split-second, and that it would take the police 2 hours to contact me. But now I can't undo the knowledge I have.