· Death and Dying ·
Whether it’s non-fiction, memoir or fiction, for me, writing about death is the ultimate mood swing. Having a dark chapter (or two) gives the reader a taste of the highs and lows of life. Without the lows, the highs aren’t as high.
In Cop in the Classroom, I recall a couple of on-duty deaths that just tore me up inside. I expose the reader to my pain while attempting to answer a student’s serious question.
Here is the introduction to one death in a chapter titled: “Living Death–‘Did You Have To See Anybody Die Before?’ ”
“No fatality accident or wreck affected me as emotionally as the one I worked just a year out of the academy. The difference between viewing a corpse and watching someone die was indescribable. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness was all consuming.”
Here’s more agony and sharp pain: “He swayed rhythmically back and forth, slowly, as though he knew he was caught in a trap and needed to escape for his survival. Even though his body was moving, he was never conscious. He didn’t talk but gurgled. I said a few words to the severely injured man, quietly telling him that we were there to help and to hang on. As I looked for a way to assist, checking the extent of his bleeding, my prayers were not answered. Examining his head with the beam of my flashlight, I saw his right ear framed in its bright rays just before blood began flowing from inside, swirling, filling its cavity. Before my eyes he was dying from internal bleeding. How could he be saved? I wondered.”
Writing about my personal trauma is painful. It’s not gratuitous violence. I would have never included this suffering in my police memoir unless it was balanced by good.
I wrote the chapter with a goal of making a difference, to have a positive influence on my students and my readers. This innocent driver’s death was due to a drunk teenager choosing to drive home from a party, thinking he could do so with no negative consequences. When the teenager plowed head-on into a newly married couple beginning their honeymoon, and killed the groom, he was dead wrong.
Here are my closing comments in “Living Death”:
“The memory causes me to swallow deeply. When I recall the event for a group, I do so in the hope that one death and one criminal conviction, twenty-five years ago, may help prevent additional heartache today and tomorrow. This is my way of giving life to the dead and injured, and a plea to drinkers to not drive.
“The fatality victim lives on today. I remember him and I continue to tell my students about his last few dying minutes on this earthly plain. Like parents who erect crosses on the road or create scholarships in the name of their child, I want his death to be remembered and to make a difference. It does! I see it often when students write an essay for my class. They recall the concrete, not abstract, heart-stopping consequences of drinking and driving.”
“To my knowledge, I never had further contact with the injured, convicted driver; or the surviving, widowed passenger. I’ve wondered about them though. We share a moment in time. I hope both are doing fine and are making a positive difference in our world. And always, I feel regret for their families.”
I said “goodbye” to Weems II when he died, trapped in his car. I said “hello” to him when I visited his grave for the first time, thirty-five years later.
Until next time, happy reading and writing!