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Oh Death, it Stings

August 19, 2009
Oregon State Police Photo

Oregon State Police Photo

There is nothing quite so final as death.  Having spent most of my adult life in EMS, I’ve seen too much of it.  I’d like to say that I’m numb to it’s wake, but on the contrary, it still hits me hard – sometimes more than others.

I don’t know what it is exactly, but even in the most obscure ways, other people’s deaths can reach out and grab us.  Other times, not so much.

As a paramedic, I would often return to the scene of fatal motor vehicle collisions – off-duty – to help process the event that occurred there. I think it has to do with my sense of empathy, I just had to process through the pain, the fear, the panic – the finality of the event.

A few days ago, four teens were killed on their way to the Oregon Coast. I don’t know them, personally, but I feel as if their lives have touched mine.  Reading the accounts of the accident brought to mind too many memories of the past.  Yesterday I drove to the scene where these four kids were killed.  There stood four white crosses with their names; and some flowers.

It was almost 30 years ago that I responded to the worst tragedy of my career. Four teens were driving in Portland‘s Washington Park, when they lost control of their car and hit a tree – a very large fir tree.  In the car were two brothers and two sisters – a double date.  The two older teens were killed instantly, but it took us well over an hour to extricate the younger siblings from the back seat.

It was a very complicated rescue that involved some very specialized equipment. I was in constant contact with the 17 year old girl through the whole endeavor.  I not only supported her body weight, but the emotional toll as she had to see us remove her now dead, and traumatically mangled, sister from the front seat.  I lost a little bit of my soul that night.

The Oregon coastline looking south from Ecola ...
Image via Wikipedia

Thirty years ago, my brother was the age of those kids in the Washington Park fatality. Now, my first nephew is the age of the kids that were killed just west of Clatskanie.  Sometimes, the images burned into my brain are just too deep to ignore.

I grieve for the families who lost their kids this weekend.  I grieve for the families who will lose loved ones in the future.

There is a cost for our auto-centric lifestyle, but sometimes we don’t realize it until it touches us personally.

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  1. August 19, 2009 4:25 am

    Very emotional and moving post. Must have been hard to write.

    Sorry for the loss of your brother. Are you really saying that you attended the scene of his tragic accident. Or are you speaking figuratively ?

    I also sensed a sea change in my emotional approach to death (or any tragedy) as soon as I had children. I can quite easily be moved to tears nowadays.


    • August 19, 2009 7:42 am

      Thanks for the comment Andy. No, it wasn’t my brother that died at that scene 30 years ago, but he was the same age as the kids who did die then. Now, his son is that age. It just breaks my heart to see the young lives ended so tragically.


  2. August 19, 2009 8:08 am

    Sorry – in this world of instant gratification and 140 character banality, I misread

    ‘my brother was the age of those kids’ as ‘my brother was one of those kids’

    Apologies but I get your point. I often watch TV news thinking: ‘Crikey, he/she is the same age as my son/daughter.’


    • August 19, 2009 11:40 am

      Hey Andy C – you aren’t half as sorry as I am to read about my death! Whew! Glad it wasn’t me, but it was pretty weird reading that…. LOL! Not half as weird though as a couple of years ago reading about a 16 year-old kid who had just gotten his license (same age as my aforementioned son) and actually had the same name in a nearby town – crashed and died…. That wasn’t fun to read about at all.

      Yes, it’s a tenuous life we all live…. Just thankful that I’m grounded well….


      • August 20, 2009 6:15 am

        In the immortal words of Mark Twain I would like to say ‘*the news of my death has been exaggerated*’.


  3. August 19, 2009 3:36 pm

    I wept when I read that story last week…I have kids the same ages of those who perished and it breaks my heart to even entertain thought of something like that happening to one of them. I have held up the parents in my prayers…I cannot and pray that I will never know what they are going through.

    Life is so fleeting and precious, Kim


    • Gary S. Walter, Personal permalink*
      August 19, 2009 9:41 pm

      Yes, precious indeed.


  4. Ray Bankes permalink
    September 9, 2009 8:29 pm

    As a former paramedic, and RN specializing in trauma care, I know what Gary is talking about 1st hand. I was numb to the emotions for most of my paramedic career. It’s a skill called disassociation–where you cut off the emotions of the moment from reality–as a coping mechanism. A wise counselor once told me that he sees quite a few EMTs in his counseling room. Not from what they have experianced, but more that many have lived traumatic childhoods where to survive, they have developed their ability to disassaciate–they turn it off. And, they do it well, thus in time it catches up with them.

    Now, I cannot watch “reality” shows showing major trauma scenes with out feeling the lump in my throat. And, supprising to me is that as a truck driver now, i have come upon a number of motor vehicle accidents where my assistance is required and I perform as expected–and usually well I might add–only to find my self choking back the sobs when its all over. (It has been suggested I suffer from PTSD) The pain, and hurt of the death all around us must stagger God who hears the screams of tragedy from all over the world assending at the same time to the most compassionate being in the universe.

    Remember, Jesus Christ has suffered in the same way we are, and he trueley feels your pain. He really, really, really understands. Take your grief and heartache of loss to Him, the great physician and healer.




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