Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I've been thinking about Death.

I decided not to blog until I had something to say. That seemed to freeze my brain completely. Today though I learnt that the search is over and Steve Morrissey's body has been found in the bush near where he went missing in Hong Kong. That in turn got be thinking about death and I wrote this:

I have been thinking about death. Life comes with death- always - we just tend to forget about it most of the time unless it is actually touching us. Real life and real death vary from what we see on the murder stories on television. They vary from each other too. Most people die quietly, easily, comfortably. They are missed and mourned by family and friends. There is grief and loss and in time their loved ones move on. While still missing the person who died they can feel blessed for having known them and take comfort in knowing that the person died with dignity. Some people hold on to life, fight for it as they battle illness or injuries. We use language that suggests the person is at war. Some people temporarily beat off death and gain precious extra days, weeks or even years. We cheer and celebrate these remissions.

Some deaths are high profile. There are several deaths that are “newsworthy” today in New Zealand and I knew two of the men. Sir Ron Trotter, the great businessman who according to Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly, “played a pivotal part in the modernisation of New Zealand's economic direction during the 1980s and after,” died today. He died of cancer aged 82.

Ron Trotter was a cousin of sorts of my husband. I’d met him at family weddings and even danced with him. He was perfectly pleasant and good company but I didn’t know him well. His death doesn’t affect me personally other to note that with his passing the last of his generation of the family is gone. I don’t care about the events and work he did that earned him a knighthood. No doubt though there will be extensive eulogies in the newspapers tomorrow.

Sir Ron died at about the expected time in his life span. Steve (Chook) Morrissey didn’t. Chook is the Air New Zealand pilot who was missing on the Wilson Trail in Hong Kong’s New Territories. It has just come through on the internet, that his body has been found. Apparently finding him any sooner wouldn’t have made any difference to the situation. Chook’s death is well before his allotted time, he was fifty one. No doubt the news services will be explaining the circumstances as they become known, but it appears that dehydrated, he and his walking buddy separated, Steve for some reason left the trail, fell and didn’t get up again.

I didn’t know Chook well either but I knew him better than I knew Sir Ron. Chookie was a member of the Wigram Aviation Sports Club, an Airforce base gliding club. I’m a member of the Canterbury gliding club which also used to fly out of Wigram Airforce base. I’ve known him as one of those many people who are just around, part of the community involved in our sport. He was someone who was there at Christmas camp and social events. He was such a nice decent guy. He had a great laugh. At the beginning of this, when we first heard he was missing I could imagine him, with his droll manner saying after he was found, ‘Oh come on. Did you really think I’d do something that stupid?’ I wonder how long I’ll be able to remember what his voice sounded like.

Many friends of mine did know him very well. The gliding community has been on tenterhooks and so anxious, so worried about him. To get this outcome, it’s so hard, even for those like our family who didn’t know him well. I suppose at least that it’s good that there is an outcome. Now he can be brought home, people can mourn. I am so sorry for his family who have lost him like this and whose grief is so much greater than mine.

There is another death that is making a lot of news at the moment in New Zealand. In fact it has dominated the news over the last week. Today was the funeral with full military honours for Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, 28, the first person in the New Zealand military to die in combat since July 2000. Lieutenant O’Donnell was on patrol as part of our Peace Keeping troops in Bamiyan, Afghanistan when he was killed and two other soldiers injured. This has been big news here – huge! I’m very conflicted about this death. Yes it is tragic, of course it is; his family and friends must be going through hell. I know our troops are only involved in Peace Keeping and not actual combat, but hello, have you noticed what part of the world they’re in? They are soldiers. I would have thought that the potential for violent death was actually in the back of their minds when they joined up even if it isn’t actually written in the job description. My son is contemplating a career in the airforce. The thought of premature death due to the job has crossed his mind, we’ve talked about it. I told him I trust the airforce to keep its people as safe as possible but I was aware the potential was there. I also told him I trusted him not to make the mistake that killed an Airforce helicopter pilot and two of his crew on Anzac day when they flew into a hill in bad weather on their way to a commemorative fly past. Being in the military carries risk but good sense and training generally keeps people safe.

I hope it doesn’t detract from the week’s tragedies to say this but fictional death has been on my mind this week too. I read fiction, lots of it. I write fiction too. Death is a huge plot point in fiction. You can’t have a murder mystery without a death after all. My story is a murder mystery. Meredith Pleiades was drowned in her bath. He ex husband Jack had visited her the night she died. He had motive, Meredith wanted to contest custody arrangements of their children, and he had opportunity. Jack’s gay partner Harry would do anything for Jack, so too would Emily, Harry and Jack’s other partner. Could they be killers? Yes Jack lives in an interesting family and the love story between the threesome, Harry, Emily and Jack was initially the whole focus of my story. The story had no tension though. It was an unconventional love story but it had no bite. Add a death however, now it’s a story.

I belong to the compuserve Writer’s Forum. We have a thread running in the Writer’s Exercise section called the Toolbox. The tool we are playing with this month is Death and Life and the strong emotions that surround them. There has been some fantastic snips in the thread. Claire is writing up a storm with her story of warring Australian brothers during WWI. The women they both loved has died in child birth, the child, whom they are now attempting to rear is the only thing they have in common. The brothers fought in the war, they were surrounded by death. Claire writes of their experiences heartbreakingly well.

Tara is writing of Kasia, a Russian/American girl tracking down her missing parents. She is great peril at the hands of the Russian mafia when one of the baddies tells her that they have killed her boyfriend. Even knowing as I do that this is not really the case, my heart nearly stopped with horror. It is powerful stuff. There are other writers posting equally harrowing and some really heart warming things too. Writing is a solitary activity, having somewhere to share the craft and the excitement of writing something good is wonderful.

In fiction we need death. In real life – well we can’t escape it. I just hope for me and for those I love that it comes at the end of a long and satisfying life. My thoughts and love are with those touched by death right now.