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Abrupt Death

I learned today that an acquain­tance died Sat­ur­day in a cav­ing acci­dent. Noth­ing in the papers beyond a blurb from a Huntsville paper: “Jack­son Coun­ty’s caves take anoth­er life when a Geor­gia woman grabs the wrong rope dur­ing a week­end spe­lunk­er trip. Author­i­ties say the death shows that only one mis­take can mean death in the dan­ger­ous sport.” It does­n’t even give her name. No, they’re too busy chas­ing the minu­ti­ae of the far more impor­tant story—the death of Princess Di and her com­pan­ions Sat­ur­day night.

I sup­pose they would­n’t have had a lot to say even with­out Princess Di’s death as a dis­trac­tion. Karen was a smart, sweet, fun­ny per­son. She and her hus­band Steve were incred­i­bly hos­pitable, open­ing their home Men­sa in Geor­gia for many par­ties. Karen was, in fact, the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the local group. She has two chil­dren in col­lege. She will be sore­ly missed by many peo­ple. But none of that is news­wor­thy, is it?

I’ve been lucky, and most of the peo­ple I’ve known who’ve died were old or very ill. It was­n’t a sur­prise, and in sev­er­al cas­es was almost a relief, as it meant the end of much suf­fer­ing. But the loss of Karen is get­ting to me more than can be explained by mere acquain­tance. I think it’s because it is dif­fi­cult for me to come to terms with her being here one day, alive, vibrant, in the prime of her life—and sud­den­ly being gone. Just gone. No time to pre­pare for news of her death. No griev­ing before the fact—just gone.

Orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten Sep­tem­ber 1, 1997