Birth (day) and Death

It’s been an odd past few days. A weird juxtaposition of birth and death. Rarely have the two commingled so closely together in my life.

This all began on Thursday, when I learned a member of my ex-wife’s family had been shot and killed in California. I didn’t know this person, had never met him or even heard his name before, so it was one of those that’s a bummer for the family moments, but nothing more. And then Roger Ebert passed away, news that I gave a “thumbs down” to. Being an avid moviegoer, I was a fan of Siskel & Ebert back in the day. What a shame, I thought, as I often do when somebody I know of but don’t know personally dies. But the strangest news was yet to come. Late that evening, thanks to a little bit of Facebook stalking on Tara’s part, we stumbled upon a photo of an ex-girlfriend of mine on her husband’s page, with a curious caption that referred to it as “our last picture together.” I didn’t really think that was a literal statement, because she’s 38 years old, but I was disturbed enough to type in her name on Google. Lo and behold, and to my utter shock, I found an obituary for her. She had died “suddenly and unexpectedly” ten days earlier of “complications from influenza.”

Holy shit.

This unleashed a wave of conflicting emotions within me. I was no longer close with this girl. We hadn’t spoken in more than a year. Our “relationship,” which I always put quotation marks around, was fraught with frustration and, in the end, a lot of ill will on my part. I won’t go into every sordid little detail, but she was the first woman I became seriously involved with following my divorce, and for four years we struggled through periods of dating, followed by break-ups, followed by ill-conceived reconciliations. We were the definition of on-again, off-again, forever running hot and cold. During our long periods apart, I dated other people, some casually, others seriously, but always whenever I thought I had found happiness and moved on for good, she forced her way back into my life, pleading with me for another chance, swearing that “things will be different this time.” Only they never were, and finally I’d had enough. When we broke up for good, I hadn’t seen her in ten months. Our “relationship” was truly only a technicality at that point, but still, one that almost prevented Tara and I from getting together. Thank god it didn’t. That all ended over a year and a half ago, and to be honest, the freedom from her constant drama and struggle was liberating. I never missed her in the least. In fact, a lot of anger had built up inside me, because honestly she treated me like crap, lied to me constantly, and really, held me back from true happiness for a long time. Even her death shed light on more mistruths. Hers was a very tangled web, to be certain.

And yet, I wouldn’t have put myself through all of that heartache if I hadn’t loved her once upon a time. They say love is blind, and that is truly the case here, but yeah…I can’t deny there were feelings at one point. If she had chosen a different path, we would have been together. It’s as simple as that. Hers was a troubled life, and she could have saved herself a lot of misery by doing things differently, but was never strong enough. I won’t say any more, because I hate to speak ill of the deceased. I just feel it’s important to fill in as much of the backstory as possible to talk about what I felt when I read her obituary.

Because, the truth is, I didn’t know what to feel. I’ve led a pretty sheltered life, one in which few people close to me have died. I lost a grandfather before I was born, another when I was 7 years old. A grandmother less than a month after Audrey was born. Aside from a scattering of more distant relatives, that’s it. I’ve never had somebody I knew intimately, a person who was such a big part of my life for a while, and one who was so young, die. Especially unexpectedly like that. From something so…”normal” and random. I’d have felt better if she’d been in a car accident or gotten crushed by a falling piano, not because I wish pain on anybody, but at least accidents happen. They’re easier to accept. Your body isn’t supposed to break down until you’re old. You get the flu, you feel miserable for a few days, and then you’re better. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right? People don’t die from it. Not young people, anyway. Not in this day and age. 

Tara was very sweet and understanding. Not at all upset that I might be feeling emotional over her death. She asked me if I was okay. And really, I was. It was more the shock of her unexpected passing; this unnerved me greatly. It made me realize that any one of us can die at any time, for virtually any reason. Or for no reason. I mean, I knew this on a subconscious level all along, but suddenly that fact was reality, shoved in my face, impossible to ignore. I can’t turn a blind eye to my own mortality or pretend I’ll never die. I will. Maybe today. Maybe in 50 years. But someday. I do feel sad for her. Nobody deserves to die at such a young age, with so much left to cherish and accomplish. It’s horribly unfair. Maybe she’d finally found the happiness that eluded her for so long, only to have it all snatched away in the blink of an eye. I especially feel bad for her mother, who has already had to bury a son and a husband. I only ever knew her by name since we had never met. But that’s a terrible burden for anybody to bear. And, I feel bad for her husband.

And I think of the weirdest things. Like how she’ll never know how Breaking Bad ends or find out whether the L.A. Kings ever win another Stanley Cup. How her cat outlived her. I always told her “life is short.” This was a mantra I repeated over and over again in an attempt to help her find her way, but even I had no idea how short it would end up for her. We had conversations about death and dying and what happens next. Hell, we fought over flu shots. I got one and she insisted there was no point. It doesn’t get any more ironic than that.

So, I feel bad that she passed away, but I never even came close to shedding a tear. Is it weird that I haven’t? My life is in such a different and better place now, the time she and I spent together feels like a lifetime ago. Besides, how can I reconcile the anger I hold in still (death hasn’t dimmed that) for the way she treated me? Perhaps I should be more upset with myself for putting up with it for so long, but that doesn’t excuse her behavior. Nothing does. And that is what I think about at the end of the day. Have any of you ever experienced the passing of a former flame? If so, how were you affected by it all? life-is-too-short-life-too-short-worry-motivational-1310861136

On the drive north to Seattle last Friday, Tara and I talked about her passing, and that conversation led to a general discussion of death. It wasn’t the most uplifting topic in the world, but I think it was a good talk. I love that we can share things like this with each other, openly and honestly. The gray skies and nonstop rain lent an oppressive, heavy feeling to the day. And yet, the reason for our trip was to celebrate life. Specifically, the birthday of her nephew, who just turned one. Even in the midst of death, life goes on, and that realization helped snap me out of the morbid little funk I was in. It was a fun weekend, full of life and laughter and vitality, and that was exactly what I needed.

“You can’t live your life in fear of death,” Tara said on the drive up. “It’s something you have no control over. Why waste precious time worrying about it when you could be living instead?”

She’s right, of course. I choose to live, for as long as I am meant to. And I hope you do the same. Because life is short.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

25 thoughts on “Birth (day) and Death

  1. Twice. Each under dire circumstance and both completely unexpected. Which is strangely surprising considering that based on their history of self-destructive behavior it was to be expected. One saddened me only slightly. The other greatly. Neither made me consider my own mortality or fear death. Both validated my choice to move on from those relationships.


    1. I think there’s a definite validation to my choice, too. That’s one thing I didn’t discuss in the post, but it’s undeniably there. Writing this out helped me feel it even more strongly. There are so many “what if”s to deal with, but they all circle back to the one ultimate question: if we had ended up together, would she be dead today? I even asked Tara, but of course, there is no answer. She wouldn’t have been living where she was, so she wouldn’t have picked up the flu virus that ultimately killed her, but who’s to say she wouldn’t have contracted it here? Maybe sooner? If you are 38 years old and pass away from the flu, then your body’s immune system must already be pretty worn down. I just suspect that, for whatever reason, she wasn’t destined for a long life. Some are, some aren’t. Life is so random that way.


  2. The cycle of life comes full circle. We never know when that last time we see someone will truly be the last time. It can lead to mixed-emotions and confusion but the thing is we are human. We are meant to feel confused about our emotions and move forward. As you pointed out – Life is short.

    We can dwell in the past but eventually have to live for the moment. I am glad Tara is there with you to share those special moments with you.


    1. I’m glad she is, too. And thankful that we both share that “live for the moment” mentality. It definitely makes us appreciate life more.

      “We never know when that last time we see someone will truly be the last time.” I’ve often thought about that, too. Because you never really know for sure, do you? Even though I doubted I’d ever see her again, the possibility of running into her somewhere always existed. Or so I thought, but I didn’t realize she was living in another state. As I said, a real tangled web.


      1. She moved to Vegas in early ’09, a couple weeks before her Dad died.
        I’m surprised you didn’t know that.


      2. Thanks.

        I had written another thing somewhere down below, but it doesn’t look like it posted… It wasn’t the flu. Didn’t know this until the autopsy, but.. Cancer. She’d had a melanoma on her toe that spread to her heart and lungs.

        When you have some time, let’s talk a little. E-mail me at daxology42@gmail or msg me on Facebook.

        You know, ‘closure’ and stuff. It might be helpful (curiosity-satiating, anyway) to both of us to timeline ’09 and ’10…


  3. I’ve only had one person I was ‘involved’ with pass away….and I felt sad. Mostly because I know he died alone and his girlfriend at the time wasn’t there for him. I wish now I’d stayed more involved, but it wasn’t a healthy situation.


    1. I don’t know how she died (alone or surrounded by loved ones, the middle of the night, middle of the day, knowing it was coming, never having a clue, etc). The situation is very weird in that regard, and circumstances prevent me from reaching out to anybody, even if I were curious enough to do so. Hell, if Tara hadn’t been doing a little FB sleuthing, I might never have known. I can only hope it was quick and painless.


  4. Wow. I don’t really know wat to say other than I think it’s really great that you & Tara can talk openly about your feelings….everything you’ve written here sounds healthy & normal but the fact that you can share those feelings w/Tara says A LOT. Once again it just prooves how totally “right” you guys are for eachother. I love it.


    1. She has said she’s equally glad that she can open up to me and share anything, too. They always say communication is an integral part of any relationship, and that is one thing we have going for us in spades. Thanks for your comment!


  5. Mark, I love what Tara said to you…

    ““You can’t live your life in fear of death,” Tara said on the drive up. “It’s something you have no control over. Why waste precious time worrying about it when you could be living instead?””

    She’s right of course, but death is such a strange thing when it happens to someone you are close to, or even someone that you once knew. So I understand your feelings TOTALLY.

    As you know, death hit my life close last year with my mother. It was surreal at first, until I actually attended her memorial, and then the reality hit me. It was the same with my father.

    And it’s so ironic you mentioned the death (shooting) of your ex-wife’s family member because a waiter who used to work for my brother, Tom, was just recently stabbed to death last week in Boyton Beach. Only 33 years old. So tragic.

    Glad to hear that you and Tara were able to speak openly and honestly about this.

    That’s awesome!


    1. I thought of you when I wrote this, Ron. And of the many parallels you and I seem to have in common. It’s amazing how quickly surreal turns to reality. I was originally going to post this tomorrow, but honestly I just wanted to get it out there while it was still sorta-fresh because already I am feeling “over” it. And I don’t mean for that to sound disrespectful – it’s just that, this weighed so heavily on my mind for the first couple of days that I have already dealt with everything I’m going to feel, and I’m no longer obsessing over some of the little things I wrote here. It happened, it’s a shame, but I accept it…and life does go on.


  6. I’ve lost quite a few people that I knew through work, one being all of 22. I’ve known people in high school who were either in a car accident or were very sick. The youngest person I knew was, if I remember correctly, 12 years old. I think the word that sums up my emotional being best would be “surreal.” How can it be that a 12 year old passes away, or the girl that you kinda knew but had a bad heart and literally passed away from coughing too much.


    I have such an amazing daughter and I agree with her completely. You can’t fear death. It’s as much a part of life as taxes. As hard as some of the conversations can be with someone you are in love with, it’s best to have them so you both know what each others wishes are. Just in case.


    1. Wow…12. How sad. But it reminds me that I knew a 6 month old baby who passed away. I forgot about her. She was my ex-wife’s niece and was born sick so it wasn’t a big surprise, but was still pretty hard to handle. There’s nothing worse than seeing a miniature coffin lowered into the ground.

      I hate taxes almost as much as death!


  7. Unfortunately, I have a little more experience with death than you appear to have although I have not had to deal with the death of an ex yet. A few years ago (for some reason I didn’t get a flu shot that year), I contracted influenza & was very, very sick. My doctor told me there is a big difference between what we commonly call the “flu” & “influenza.” Influenza is the old fashioned bug no one has immunity to anymore since the modern flu has mutated so much. If your former girlfriend had influenza I could certainly see how it could have been fatal from how bad I felt.


    1. I’ve never heard that before. I thought flu/influenza were interchangeable terms. Did a little research and learned that 0.1% of people who contract the flu die from it. This just reinforces my belief that she had some other underlying health issues.


      1. It wasn’t influenza. Autopsy results a couple months later… Cancer. She had a melanoma on one of her toes. It had spread to her heart and lungs.


  8. I’m sorry for your loss, Mark. I can understand your mix of emotions and again I’m so happy you have Tara in your life to talk to about this. It’s good that you talked. Death is not an easy thing for my boyfriend to discuss because he hasn’t had to deal with it much until his grandfather passed a couple years ago. I’ve unfortunately been to many funerals: all 4 grandparents, classmates of mine, and coworkers. They covered all ages and sparked all emotions. And I think the best thing we can do is talk about it. It can be difficult but ultimately healing.


  9. Learned a lot about the subject of late. Mother passed from sudden illness in Sept and lasted 5 weeks. I was her home hospice nurse and slept next to her each night. Watching her evaporate bit by bit each day and resist with every breath….This coming weekend I am having my 5 year old grandson sleep over.


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