A six-year old local girl was pulled from a wrecked jeep Monday night here in Carroll County, MD. She died.  This morning, National Public Radio airs a story on how nonbelievers cope with death.  It's funny how things seem to connect. 

I've told some close friends how I will remember 2012 as a year of untimely deaths.  Wonderful celebrations were part of the year, but even these occurred in the shadow of lingering illness.  I am not sure what the definition of untimely death even is. Maybe all are.

Strangely, my children seem to feel none of the discord I feel about the people who've passed, and the unfairness of it all. I am surprised and touched, and have been ever since the two older ones lay on the floor of the funeral home with paper and crayons, along with their cousins, and drew pictures and notes that they then inserted in Great Grandma's coffin for her next great journey.

We expected my Aunt Mary to die this summer, from a maddening, teasing illness, and we had a wonderful visit on one of her good days, a few weeks before her death. But the call we got a week or so after the visit was for Aunt Marcia - Cookie to family - a woman radiant and glowing, full of energy and a regular at the gym. 

After another long and lingering illness, a friend Judy finally succumbed, surrounded by family and friends.

Our wrestling coach's five-year old son, Nate, died over the Labor Weekend, and an entire county was plunged into mouth-covering shock.  Nate is remembered in ways that will touch the community - and all who know the family - for a long, long time. 

My college friend Aaron - a consummate athlete and moment-seizer, passed unexpectedly in November.  On my birthday, December 9, a beautiful young woman, daughter of my cousin Charlie, is killed in a senseless accident, her fiance driving, life stretching ahead in open-armed welcome, then dissolving in a cold western Maryland instant. .

A few days later, just in time for Christmas, Newtown. 

I guess I had hoped God would decide enough is enough, and 2013 would be a year of weddings and babies.  Then yesterday, I hear about the little girl who died, strapped in the back seat, in an improperly secured car seat. 

I am not at all comfortable about my children's' lack of exposure to religion.  I try to weigh how much my own formative years spent in the care of the sisters affected me, and whether on balance I consider that positive or negative. There are few things, after lo this many years, I know for sure.

In listening to those in the NPR piece with no God describe how they get through tragedy, I am struck by a woman interviewed. "I was searching frantically for anything that would help me get through this," Fiore recalls. "But everything I found had to do with God: putting your faith in God, believing that God had some sort of plan. I found nothing to help me."

I can appreciate the consistency shown here in being an atheist. If you don't believe in God, that applies to moments of tragedy too.  But I don't hesitate to explain to my kids that Mary is now with Jimmy and Dawn, and Cookie is now with Ryan.  I explain it that way because I have to believe it. 

I am not cut out for atheism. When I'm swimming in the ocean I don't think about sharks.  When I am camping alone I don't mull over the last Stephen King book I read. And when I am truly open  to all that life is, including what a dangerous and mindless world it can be sometimes, I don't toy with the notion of nothing beyond, as well as here, to aid the journey. 

Anyone due soon? Any marriages on the horizon? It's time.



uncle joe
01/16/2013 8:02am

jackie you have a special talent as a writer you made me cry and i dont do that enough thank you for sharing what you are thinking love to you and your family

Mark K
01/16/2013 8:16am

Thanks Jackie. I just finished reading "Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife". Still not sure what I think, but one of my favorite quotes; “Laughter and irony are at heart reminders that we are not prisoners in this world, but voyagers through it.” Like you, I worry if I've provided my boys a foundation for their path, but in the end we really just want them to enjoy the voyage.

S-I-L Resa
01/16/2013 8:18am

Jack-I liked it. It is nice to know that you are also thinking of Cookie and Mary too and have been touched by all of the tragedies. I think about the "aunts" all the time. Life is short and I struggle for answers as to why people are chosen to pass when they do. As a mom, the Newtown tragedy broke my heart.

Teresa Shattuck
01/16/2013 2:42pm

Jack, You captured what's been in my heart since June 20 when Cookie died. I miss my aunts, Cookie and Mary Margaret, I grieve for the Osbornes, and ache for June and Charlie and, as for Newtown, there are no words. These big losses are our reminders to live fully and love deeply. In the end, that's all that matters. Thank you!

01/17/2013 10:59am

"I tried atheism, but there weren't enough holidays," so says a button on my backpack.
A sensitive treatment of what lies beyond death.

01/18/2013 8:15am

Nicely said. I hope I am not tempted to steal some of your adjectives. I tried agnosticism once, and found labeling myself this way simply meant I was too lazy to pick up a Bible and read. When I encountered the Son of God in its pages, I realized how futile it had been to believe anything else. Never looked back.

Kristy Miller
01/18/2013 4:04pm

sigh. atheism is definitely not comforting, agreed.

01/19/2013 5:35pm

Just read your three stories. Have laughed and wept. It was wonderful to see expression of regret and frustration and pride at the courage of Mary, Cookie and Samantha. So many thoughts of these families over the Christmas Season wondering how everyone was and being sure of the pain involved in celebrating a Happy Christmas.

07/29/2014 1:21am

I personally liked going through your solid points on this topic.


I just love the blog post.

Nancy aka sunshine
10/18/2014 2:06pm

As I listened to my oldest daughter, now a freshman tell me about her first deep conversation at college,my thoughts returned to my freshman year, and my friend Jack who was so welcoming and genuine to the young Jewish girl from Brooklyn. You were such a great writer back then and I am so excited to read your book!

05/11/2015 11:06pm

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Jack Dempsey
01/25/2016 6:25pm

Yea...Jack did it again. The subject becomes more relevant...even urgent.. in old age..(I'm 90...I know!!). But, like Alan Watts, I don't want to sit and stare at God forever more... as he says. That would be like being in church forever! I want to partake in what He/She does ...viz.; pass out Love to "earthlings". .. After all, Jesus said "on earth as it is in heaven".. isn't that what Heaven (God) is always doing... passing out Love/grace. We'll just help doing it .. to those we know best...e.g., family and friends. (that's a new definition of the communion of saints doctrine.) After all isn't everyone in heaven a saint!

05/26/2016 4:23am

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