No Need to Cry
Her room was filled with the things from childhood. The little girly things a teenager holds onto as she transitions into becoming a young woman. A violet spread covered the bed with its white headboard and matching dresser. Unicorns, rainbows and pop stars were carefully placed around the well-kept room. The smiling faces of she and her friends looked out at us from a myriad of picture frames.
It was mid-morning when my engine company was dispatched to an unresponsive person. In the town where I worked all of the firefighters were EMT’s and an engine company was always dispatched when the call came in as life threatening. We arrived at the upper middle-class home in a well-manicured subdivision. A middle-aged mom met us at the door; she was pale and seemed somewhat emotionless. She pointed up the stairs to her daughters’ room. Something was odd, there were a couple of other adults in the living room silently watching us with expressionless faces. No one was with the patient. I entered first with my engineer and firefighter behind me. The fire department always seemed to arrive before the paramedics. I knew the girl was gone at first glance. Motionless she laid across her bed still dressed from the night before. Her eyes were closed, life’s color had drained from her youthful face, turning it to something else. Hopefully, I checked her pulse, breathing and other indicators searching for any sign of life. There was none. We had seen quite a few teen suicides over the past year and I wondered if this might be another. I scanned the room for medicine bottles or some other clue and saw nothing. I radioed Central requesting the police and an ETA of the paramedics, both were unusually slow.
I stalled knowing the conversation to come and the news I would have to deliver. From downstairs I could hear the Mom’s cry of despair, “why are they taking so long”. As the Captain I had no choice, it was up to me speak with her. I left my crew with instructions not to disturb anything and reluctantly left the room. I could see her standing at the bottom of the stairs, arms folded shoulders tense, already knowing what I was going to tell her yet clinging to some hope that it wasn’t so. As an EMT by law I could not pronounce her daughter dead, all I could say was, “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do”. As the confirmation of what she had known set in her shoulders sunk in despair and tears filled her eyes. She turned to her neighbors for comfort. For what seemed an eternity I stood with them waiting for the other responding units. As a firefighter I was trained to do something, to act and put things back in order. What was once normal for this family had been changed forever and there was nothing I could do to help them.
The paramedics and the police finally arrived, and I turned the scene over to them. My crew and I got on the engine and returned to the station. We didn’t talk about what we had just witnessed. The crew went about their daily routine of checking the trucks and cleaning the fire station as I sat alone in the watch room and wrote the report.
More than twenty years later the pretty young girl and her Mom are still with me. They will always be with me as will all the others I responded to over the years, the violent deaths and the peaceful. I have felt a last pulse and seen eyes go dark all too many times.
This past weekend I attended a Pauwau (pow-wow) of the Waccamaw Indian People in South Carolina. While there I had the good fortune to speak with an elder and former Chief of a North Carolina tribe, whom I had recently visited with at both his home and tribal grounds. A deeply spiritual, man the stories of his tribe and his involvement with it were inspiring. An engaging and willing story teller, he seems to have many lifetimes of tales to tell. I heard recently that his wife had passed away. She had been living in a nursing home for quite some time and the Chief would visit and sit with her every day. There were many photos of her around their home and he had shown me several newspaper clippings of their work with their people and the community. I was struck by her poise and graceful confidence. From every account, all who met her loved and admired her. The love he had for her shown clearly as he spoke of their many years together dedicated to each other and together dedicated to their tribe.
I expressed my condolences over his loss. He looked at me from beneath his black western style hat with almost a joyful glow in his dark penetrating eyes. He paused for a few moments and smiled before slowly saying in his deep raspy voice, “Its OK, I didn’t cry. You see I don’t believe in death so there is no need to cry. She has taken another form, but she is with me and I with her. We spoke the day before she passed and were very happy. We had a good life together sharing in many things and we both knew that this is only a transition for us.” His voice was unwavering, as these words came from his heart. Their meaning was a powerful lesson for me. His steady gaze saw through to my soul and testified to their truth. The love they shared has not been interrupted in the slightest bit and will continue.
I have come to realize that, just as life is not permanent, neither is death. Before we manifested into this physical life we existed as a soul, spirit, being of light, whatever you call it doesn’t matter. We existed within the cosmic consciousness we often refer to as God. An energy or soul, if you will, made up of our karmic adventures through many lifetimes (The word for karma in the Tibetan language is Le, which may be translated as our work, actions or deeds). As the causes and conditions of our karma come together and ripen, which may be seen as the will of God, we once again manifest on this earthly plain. Death is not an end to our existence, it is a continuation of a cycle and transition closer to God. We need not fear death, nor mourn it as the Indian Chief showed me, when we understand it as a beautiful transition bringing us closer to our true nature. A pure nature realized and undefiled by negative thoughts and deeds. Just as the caterpillar creates the karmic conditions through its work of creating its cocoon to manifest as a butterfly, the works and deeds of our life create the karmic conditions to bring us once again into the cosmic consciousness of God.
William C. Judge 2018