I’ve reached an age when I scan the obituaries every day to see how many people my age have died and what they died from. I feel horribly cheated if the cause of death is left out because then I can’t take any comfort in the fact that I don’t have that disease or don’t engage in that activity which somehow translates into my mind as a reason why I won’t die soon.
I am buoyed when the majority of the people in the obituaries are over 70. I have a distance to go before I get there – though not such a distance that I can feel complacent. When the majority of obituaries are people in my age bracket, I get nervous. Those who have died after a long illness allay the nervousness somewhat but those who died of “natural causes in their sleep” cause my anxiety level to soar.
I wonder how long it would take someone to find me if that happened. I wonder how my birds and dog would fare till I was found. I find myself sleeping with one eye open for the next few nights as though I could see death coming and somehow avoid it till I called someone to let the dog out in the morning.
But the worse obituaries to read are those of the young – babies who never reached their first birthday, young children who are visited by god with some horrible illness that cuts them down before they’ve had a chance to conquer a two wheel bike, young adults with their whole lives left to plan who suddenly have no life left.
I don’t read obituaries from other states. I’m not that crazy yet. So I don’t really know how we actually compare to other places when it comes to the death of our youth. It seems to me that I’ve read enough statistics to know that Alaska is a pretty rough place to live in if you want to live out your allotted life span. Accidents, whether from guns, cars or boats, seem to take a heavy toll on our population, especially our young population.
Some of those accidents are an inevitable part of the lifestyle lived in Alaska. We are still, in the end, a frontier. Once you leave the environs of the three or four urban areas of the state, you are in wilderness where survival often means engaging in activities that can be very dangerous no matter how many safety precautions are used. To the extent that we love this state and the variety of lifestyles it allows us, we accept a certain amount of death and carnage as the inevitable byproduct.
But here’s what I can’t accept. I can’t accept the death of anyone, and especially a young person, due to an accident in which alcohol is a factor.
It’s not as though there is anyone left in this entire country who hasn’t been exposed to the fact that drinking and guns, drinking and boats, drinking and cars, drinking and snowmobiles, drinking and ATV’s, do not make for a healthy mix. Put them in any sort of proximity and they are invariably grounds for a tragic explosion of some kind.
Since I deal with people in my work as a Guardian Ad Litem who have severe substance abuse problems, I try very hard to be understanding of just how overwhelming those addictions can be. Walking away from them, taking control of your life back from them, is a Herculean task that you have to wake up and repeat every day of your life. Relapses happen and, as we so often tell people, the most important thing is to get back on the wagon again immediately.
I truly believe all of that right up until I get a call that a young man in Barrow is dead and the driver of the truck that hit his motorcycle was arrested for drunk driving. And I hear the anguish in his aunt’s voice at the lost and know I don’t even want to talk to the parents yet because of the intense pain I will hear in theirs. Then I find myself not caring too much about rehabilitation. I find myself wanting justice. I find myself wanting this drunken driver to never be allowed on a public road again unless he is handcuffed and in the back of a locked police van. I don’t want to know about the driver’s potential for the future if he sobers up. I can only focus on the potential future that has been lost.
Drinking and driving don’t mix. Five simple words. None of them more than two syllables. How hard can they possibly be to understand?