Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Not How It's Supposed to Be

On Monday I went on my first call with the fire dept that included a victim fatality. The man had apparently been driving at a normal highway speed (I cannot speculate as to his actual speed), when something impeded his attention to the road. He swerved into the back of an "18-wheeler" flatbed trailer without so much a hitting the brakes (I surmised this from the absence of skid marks; though I'm hardly qualified to forensically investigate accident scenes). After striking the trailer, his pickup was so crushed that the airbags were rendered functionally irrelevant. The net result was that he seemingly (according to my untrained opinion) died on impact.

The Fate Fire Dept had been at the scene for a while by the time I got there, cutting away the doors to gain access to the victim. When I arrived on scene to offer support, they were in the last moments of removing gnarled car parts in their way. I spent time on the scene praying for the firefighters and those working on the accident, giving them water to because of the heat they were experiencing laboring in their bunker gear. As a result, I saw everything.

At the time it didn't occur to me as strongly, likely because, like the other personnel on scene, I was much more focused on the job. Later though, after some time for the experience to ferment in my mind, there was much that was sobering, and in many ways seemed down right wrong.

I understand, a little more now, the emphasis of Paul in 1 Cor 15:26-58 regarding victory over Death. It is an evil and horrific enemy, layering indignities upon insults at the end of one's life. Few things can scream, "This is NOT how it's supposed to be!" like seeing someone recently dead (or dead for a while for that matter). The sights, sounds and even smells all war with one's perception of how the world is "supposed" to work. While certainly one may become like a machine for the sake of getting the job done while on scene, later you realize that you took a human with you in your skin - a human that took in data through the senses that contradicts many dearly held assumptions about how the world works.

According to these assumptions:

-the body is NOT supposed to bend and flop around that way. Even if a crushed vehicle has left very few intact bones, it's still NOT supposed to twist this way and that way like a lifeless rag doll.

-people ARE supposed to be full of life, not a lifeless body crumpled up behind a crushed steering while.

Who knew that Death has a distinct smell? It wafts on the air; hovers over the scene; attacks the nostrils and leaves the lasting memory of an unnatural stench. No wonder that so much superstition and lore surrounds the specter of Death. Paul understandably personifies Death as an enemy that Christ has, and will, defeat in resurrection (both His and ours).

The nature of our hope in Christ cannot be separated from the resurrection. Rightly do Christians tire of incomplete presentations of the Gospel that offer purpose and fulfillment for this life alone. Death is coming, and it will strip all vestiges of human dignity and importance. Have we a Christ that offers a better experience for this life alone? Do we not also have a Christ that offers victory over this ancient and cruel enemy?

As I reflected further on the man pulled from the crunched vehicle, I remembered several aspects that hit me with bludgeoning force later in the evening.

As I watched the firefighters perform their extrication work, I didn't know not to look at the victim's face. My Captain would later offer the sage wisdom not to do that again. Avoiding that practice has spared him many a nightmare. I'll remember that in the future.

The victim's left arm was pinned to his chest by the support beam. When the frame support was removed, his arm fell to his left side. Oh God! There's a ring on his left hand. Some widow will be getting a call, or a visit from an officer in his hometown very soon. God, please comfort her and his family.

Typically, when someone is a crash victim, pinned inside the vehicle, rescue workers talk to them constantly to reassure them throughout the extrication. Even if the victim can't talk back for medical reasons, the rescuers still talk to them. Oh God, why isn't anyone talking to him? The silence is deafening. There's no one there to talk to. THIS IS NOT THE WAY IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE!

There is no resolution to this until the resurrection. Death is not good. It's not "just another part of life." It's anti-life. It's non-life. Death is an indignity that people were never meant to suffer. The respect that rescue workers show the deceased is laudable, but they cannot reverse the damnable horror of lifelessness. Only the power wielded by none other than the resurrected Jesus Christ can affect such a victory, and we are assured that he will at a timing of his choosing. Until then, we lament loudly, and wail in collective disgust to the One that will bring the ultimate rescue, shouting:

How long, O Lord?! How long?

How long must we endure such things that are not how it's supposed to be?


Amber said...

Normally I would not comment. Why? Mostly because I understand this blog to be your personal venting journal, if you will. Also, a lot of times I do not have the knowledge or experience to comment on what you are saying. Finally, I wouldn't normally comment simply because you may not WANT a comment - especially about something that affected you in such a profound way.
Well, your words truly touched my heart and I feel compelled in a very intense way to offer a little insight. Again, this is not to argue or try to convince you of something.. merely to give a perspective.
You wrote the following: "Death is not good. It's not "just another part of life." It's anti-life. It's non-life. Death is an indignity that people were never meant to suffer."
Perhaps it's not death that is wrong, but rather how one gets to that point? Death can be part of life.... that circle of life, if you don't mind the analogy. In order to have life, there must be death... isn't that part of why Jesus was tortured and killed? He died a horrific death to give us life... I've seen death be beautiful, peaceful, almost comforting while at the same time being heartbroken with grief that it was being... experienced.
Suffering before death, I agree, is wrong. It is wrong in ways i do not have words to describe it with... death the way you experienced it should never happen... and should never be seen.
But I've seen death in a vastly different way and while it was painful it was also the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced and something I will forever be thankful for witnessing.
Watching someone silent leave this world and go on to another 'life', quietly, with a soft breath and a sigh, was so profound that to this I really cannot speak of it to anyone without being moved to tears. Who would "approve" of the idea that it was a wonderful experience? Or that it was beautiful or even right?
So think on it a bit and realize your job is to comfort and care for those who only seem to see death in a horrific manner... it's not an easy job but it a job God has given you and one, I think, you are more than capable of. Just remember... it's not always like that.
Just a thought my dear friend....

Monk321 said...

I must gently disagree. That some deaths are more tame than others cannot render them "good." We might speak in relative terms and declare someone's death "good," suggesting that they died in a manner that is less painful or horrific than others do, or that their's was a more gracefully peaceful "passing." Nevertheless, Death must be remembered as a foreign intrusion into the human experience never intended in creation. Thus, we have the hope of it one day being eradicated from the human experience. Death is defeated by resurrection, and will be eradicated from the world that is to come, precisely because it is not "good." It is a foreign intrusion to the creation declared "good" in Genesis. We can be thankful when Death comes in a relatively gentle manner, but we should never be pleased by Death itself. It is an enemy over which we anticipate an ultimate victory. This is integral to the Christian hope.

Steve Baker said...

Amen, finally, someone prepared to lead the charge in the right direction. Onward, Christian soldier.

Monk321 said...

I would not want to think of this as "leading a charge;" especially in response to such a dear friend as the previous post from "Amber." Her comments are understandable. Nevertheless, I also do not want to lose sight of the full scope of our salvation in Christ. We have been saved, justified before God by the Cross. We are being saved, sanctified throughout our life by the Spirit. -AND- We will be saved, glorified after death by the resurrection. Seeing death close up drove this home for me.

Melissa said...

It has not been so long that you won't remember where my perspective comes from, so I'll offer it without preamble.

I was taught not to fear death, but to expect it and accept it as simply not living long enough to experience (and survive) Armageddon. The hope of resurrection was central to my religious upbringing, and yet death always scared the crap out of me. (forgive me- that is an academic term).

I could not ever do your job, Monk. Every death is personal to me, somehow. I feel so earnestly for the survivors that their pain becomes my own. I worry for them about how they will get along without their loved one as if it was MY beloved who has gone. I am selfish in this way -I 'take' for myself the emotion that belongs to others. Perhaps it is my own way of preempting the sorrow I was taught to "expect and accept" so that, when death comes to my own front door, I will not be quite so scared.

You are a selfless, compassionate person, and I respect you for your ability and willingness to go where people are in pain and comfort them. Death may not be "how its supposed to be," but when it is "how it is," I would want for someone like you to be there helping me through.

Amber said...

When I said death can be "good" I was merely pointing out that it needn't be "bad" the way Aaron was describing it.
No one really wants to die. Even those who think they do, don't. They want an escape. But there are times when death comes to someone who is ill and it is a relief.... truly a way to "rest".
I've seen death come in a very gentle way and while I didn't wish it to be so, it wasn't indignit and the person didn't suffer. At the time they were suffering more in life.
I don't wish for death but I realize it is inevitible. I'm not scared of it so much as I'm scared of losing life before I'd like to. Perhaps this isn't making sense. :)
My whole point was merely to say, what Aaron experienced was wrong and unfair. The means were horrific and the result happened too soon. But death in itself is, in some ways, merely the beginning of a new life.