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Death: Good for the Dead, Bad for the Dying,
and Worse for Those It Leaves Behind
My whole life, death has been a distant thing to me. It is not even really a thing, but more of an idea. I have heard about death millions of times with the media. Everyday in the news, people are dying left and right with disease in the foreign countries, famine in distant lands, and even murder in the suburbs. I even heard about it a few times from my friends when they told me about their recent loses. With all of these stories of “tragedy” and awful accidents, I never felt any emotion. The news reporter’s sympathy for these victims was not convincing enough to make me think that something tragic had happened, or my elementary school friend did not understand the situation himself in order to feel pain. If something was truly awful about the story, it was too far away for me to consider it a reality.
When I was about eight years old, I experienced the first death in my family. My father’s sister had died and my he got a call soon after. I was in the room when the phone rang and my dad answered the phone. He first sounded excited to hear the voice on the other end, but that happiness soon turned to devastation. His only sister had passed away and he began to cry. My father is not a crying man, and he soon regained his composure and finished the conversation. He was able to put his sadness aside and tend to business. This was a very small event, but it had a large impact on me and helped shape my ideas about the idea of death. The way that I saw my father handle this so-called tragedy gave me the impression that life was almost like a movie. What goes on in the movie might be sad or scary or whatever, but it is not a big deal. We just need to get over the emotion because the movie is still playing and something different is happening now. The reason that this event was not a tragedy to me is that it was extremely distant from me and in reality, it had very little to do with me. My aunt lived very far away from my home, so we rarely visited and I have no memories of her except for a very fuzzy mental picture. We did not attend the funeral because of the distance, but my father flew to pay his last respects to his sister. He was gone for a couple of days and was a little shaky when he returned, but all-in-all things were just like normal. Moral of the story: Death is a small speed bump, which should not be adjusted for, but should not be a big deal.
When death occurs in a person’s life, they put down what they are doing and tend to the matter, they come back to continue their business, and make like normal. They, with good reason, take off of school or work. They make up for the things that they missed and everything is fine again. They do not want to bring their emotions because they do not want to show their pain to others. They repress their feelings for the benefit of others. When I see this, I see a person who has experienced this thing called death, but they are not sad. This just reinforces the ideas that I have made for myself about death and its place in life.
About four years ago, I had my first realization of the power of death. This was a slight taste of what death really meant, but it came at a huge cost for others. It all started one day in the middle of summer. I was downstairs watching the television while my older sister and her friend were hanging out upstairs. We all heard a few pops that sounded a lot like small firecrackers that came from outside. I disregarded this noise as neighborhood children messing around, but my sister and her friend went outside to investigate. The sight that they found would change their lives. On a street near our house, there was a car parked on the side of the road and a man lying on the sidewalk. The two ran over to see what had happened, but what they found was a dying road rage victim. My sister ran back into the house to call the police while her friend stayed with the man while he futilely attempted to speak his last words. Hours later, after the whole situation had ended, the two were still unable to speak a single word. They had cried their eyes dry and were slowly gaining control of their shaking. While this whole situation was almost impossible to disregard, my “life is a movie” way of thinking made the event unreal. It seemed like just another climax in my sister’s movie, but was not really important to my plot.
The event in my life that brought me to the realization of death’s importance and the point I am at now was my grandfather’s death. About three and a half years ago my grandfather was at the hospital for a back problem and was diagnosed with cancer. He was a heavy smoker and had been for many years. The cancer was appropriately in his lungs, brain, and throat. They gave him slim chances for survival, but he eagerly took those odds. As the Chemotherapy began to take its toll on his body, his head was completely bald and he was very weak. This condition was very hard for him, being a hard working ex-military officer. While he was going through all of these treatments and being worn down by the disease, our family made every effort to be there. We would visit over Christmas, summer, and spring break. We all wanted to be there for him, as he became more and more helpless. As this progressed, he began to look less and less like the person I knew before this. He looked more and more ghostly every day. I believe that this was another way that life tries to ease the pain of those who know and love death’s victims. By the time that my grandfather died, I would not have recognized him if I hadn’t seen the stages in between. Although this could have been another excuse for me to pretend that tragedy wasn’t really happening, I refused to let it. I accepted what was happening to my grandfather.
Now, here I am in my freshman year of college. Just a couple of months ago, my grandmother passed away. Just like my grandfather, this was expected when it came. The doctors performed many tests, analyzed her conditions, and determined there was nothing that could be done. They predicted her death very soon. We all had time to prepare, and instead of pretending it was not really happening, I accepted it and prepared for what would happen.
After all of these experiences, I have learned a very valuable lesson. Whenever tough situations arise, you have a couple of choices. There is almost always an easy way out, which is usually not the best choice, and many people take it. There is always a hard way in every situation. This may be the more difficult route, but is probably also the more rewarding and satisfying route. For me, the easy route was to pretend that life was just a movie for my enjoyment, where I was the main character. As in all movies, there was conflict, but you always knew that it was okay because the story always ended happy. This front allowed me to look past these conflicts and pretend they did not really matter. What I lost was mainly emotion, but also the opportunity to enjoy the time I had with my grandfather before it was too late. If I had taken the difficult path and acknowledged the definiteness of death, then I would have realized what we all knew was going to happen enjoyed the time with my grandfather more. Now, here I sit, enjoying my time with others and not pretending that no matter what, there will always be more time.
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