Life Before Death

Published on: 01 Apr 2008 by Anders Conbere

I don't usually write much about things that aren't technology related these days. It's a much more comfortable space for me. But something about some recent conversations with my friend Eina Ooka and her struggles recently, a talk by Jill Bolte Taylor at TED and a fantastic photo journal Life Before Death by the guardian, has filled up my head with strange thoughts on the nature of human interaction, and existence.

I've always had a somewhat disconnected relation to death. Only a couple of people in my life have ever died, and most of those I wasn't close to.

First there was my great grandmother, who I remember visiting at a young age. I don't recall much about here besides an old photograph we have of that visit. I remember a sickly green light came in through her window and feeling scared and a bit nauseated, not long after we left she died and I don't remember it making much of an impression on me.

There was the old man who taught CPR at the camp I worked at as a kid. Maybe it was the years of doing CPR or some fluke of his german ancestry. His wife and him and been married for ages and teaching CPR to the camp for the last decade at least. She had a interesting name. And they both had german accents. He had this really big hands and when having you demonstrate the technique he'd show you would sometimes reach out and take hold of an arm to reposition it. And I remember how strong those hands were. The the long thin fingers were incredibly powerful.

He died early one summer before camp started, I was up there for some reason or another and Ken McEdwards took me and a few of the other kids down to his funeral. I believe it was a closed casket. There were a number of folks from the surrounding area there and the feeling was somber and sad. And I just felt a little out of place. I didn't really know the man, and I wasn't as sad as many of the other people there. I remember feeling a bit... awkward.

Then my cousin Matt killed himself when I was a sophomore in college. This was probably the death that had the greatest effect on me. Perhaps due to some of the rough times I was having in college, trying to figure out my own life. He had put a shotgun in his mouth, and left a note that said "wake me up when ..." I don't remember the rest of it "we're truly free", it was something like that. It was one of those deaths that you could really dig into. He had spent the last couple years helping lead a group Teamsters for a Democratic Union and from the sound of it had been creating quite a stir. You couldn't help but think back to things like the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance, but dismiss those concerns as "a little bit crazy".

I have a few memories of Matt, most dating back to the time we used to spend with the Conbere side of the family in Virginia in the summers. I remember as a kid maybe 5 or 6 looking up to my older cousins as they would burry me in the sand, and dig big holes in the ocean, or bring back treasures for me. I recall all Matt and Emily and Nick playing with me, and while I have some pictures of Matt and I think I remember him in particular, it's hard to say as time has blurred all that together. For whatever reason Matt's age and the grizzly nature of his death really kind of shook me, I think it was the first time I felt a distinct pain about death.

And the last person in my life who has passed away is my grandmother "Nana" Nancy Conbere. I had just happened to be visiting the east coast with my girlfriend Zuzka, when my dad called and told me that Nana was sick and was probably going to die. I wasn't too far from there so Zuzka and I got in her car and drove out to visit. I missed seeing her one last time by only a day. I was really happy that I made it out there though. I got to see a number of members of my family, console my grandfather, and my father. But I felt like I had barely known my grandmother. She had visited a few times, and we had visited a couple more. But she was a quiet woman, and could often be found doing needle point, which to a young boy was never particularly exciting. I remember he being kind, and giving me fudgsicles in the hot virginia summers. I remember how old she seemed to me, and frail.

And as I write these things I do feel sad, for each one of these people in my life who I'll never get know, never see again. But it all for the most part feels very unreal.