Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How did she die, and why do I care?

There are many obsessions in my life, chief among them finding great cups of coffee, outstanding chocolates, and off-the-beaten-path yummy eateries. These obsessions are socially acceptable.
What bothers people, namely my husband and children, is the obsession I have over figuring out how  young people die. My husband and daughters tell me that I am moribund and waste my time investigating the deaths of people I do not know, nor have ever met.
Look. I read obituaries with the same kind of interest that others hold when they read biographies of famous people. It is my life's philosophy that every person, no matter how long he or she has lived, has a story to tell. As such, I truly enjoy a well-crafted obituary. The Sunday Kansas City Star is my favorite source, as no fewer than seventy-five death notices are published then. Between discovering interesting names (Syd Sidebottom) and amazing achievements and/or actions ("When she was eleven years old, Melinda cut the word impossible out of the dictionary."), I am generally inspired to go out into the world and Do Something Important by the time I've read the final obituary. Besides, by the time I'm finished with the listings, my coffee has run cold.
This obsession isn't a fun one. I get depressed when I read the obits of children who have passed, especially the ones who die during their teen years. Having raised three children into adulthood, it strikes me as particularly crushing and soul-wounding, to have loved a child into his high school years and then  lose him right before it's time to graduate, to head to college, to realize childhood ambitions. At its core, I believe it is wrong for a parent to have to bury a child, no matter how old that child is. I am reminded of a saying: You bury a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, in the ground. You bury a child in your heart. There is not a day goes by that I do not worry about my children, that I do not have anxiety over all the What-ifs that befall young people. I pray to God that they are safe and out of harm's way.
Still. Young people die. Parents bury their children. I have a close friend whose son died riding his beloved motorcycle on the Fourth of July. A brand-new high school graduate, he and a friend were taking a quick bike ride before heading over to a relative's house for a celebration. A drunk driver turned right in front of him on a country road. He died instantly. The drunk driver walked away, unscathed.
My friend has never, will never, be the same. Her marriage ended and her joy dwindled. Three years later, I cannot look at her without thinking that she is a mother who buried her child. It is my first thought. I wrote this young man's obituary and typed through my tears. I also wrote my dad's obituary and my mother's. When my sweet aunt died a few months after my mom's passing, I said to my sister, You have to write Aunt Jannie's. I can't do it again.

Still, I read the obits. In a way, I feel that readership is necessary, that it is important to read about the people who were here on a Tuesday and gone on a Wednesday, and that by reading about their lives, their lives have meaning and they will be remembered. For many people, the only time their name is in the paper is in an alphabetized fashion on that page of remembrances.
I am particularly sad when I read about a young mom taken by breast cancer, who leaves children of the home, or a young father who fights for his country and never comes home, or for the young father who drowns in a lake on a Saturday night and is survived by two boys, ages three and six.
Sometimes, I experience anger, when an obit of a three year old is sandwiched between the obits of a ninety-one-year old named John and a ninety-four-year-old named Josephine.  Little Allie Fisher never started kindergarten. Where is the justice for her? Why do some people get to be so old and others die before they've barely begun to live?

There are cancers and accidents and house fires and military deaths (Army Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Thomas Jr., 31, of Pensacola, Fla.; Army Lt. Col. Todd J. Clark, 40, of Evans Mills, N.Y.; Army Maj. Jaimie E. Leonard, 39, of Warwick, N.Y.) There are deaths from natural causes, like with the Johns and Josephines of the world who get to be in their nineties, and, hey, let's face it, that's pretty damned old. There are homicides and suicides and heart attacks and folks who die peacefully in their sleep, surrounded by family. Usually, the cause of death can be determined by the context of each obituary: "The family requests donations to the American Cancer Society in lieu of flowers" ... "Contributions may be made to the American Heart Association."

And then there are the obits that don't make any sense, the ones that make me go all Nancy Drew trying to figure out why the person died. Someone like Andrea Beerman, a thirty-four-year old dentist of Westood Hills, Kansas, who passed away June 11, 2013. She wasn't old, that's for sure. We can rule out natural causes. Newly married, Andrea Beerman had a thriving dental practice in the Kansas City area.
Why is she gone? She was educated and ambitious and had her shit together. She volunteered in Honduras and El Salvador to provide dentistry to the underprivileged. She ran marathons and practiced yoga. She served on the board of the Timber Creek Retreat House.
There's nothing in the obituary that explains her passing. She is pictured, young and beautiful and healthy-looking, an enormous smile on her pretty face.
How did she die?
Why do I care?
I don't know the answer to that last question. I guess I want to try to make sense of things, to intellectualize that thirty-four-year-old yoga-running women don't just die randomly. It's something I need to make sense of. I've got children in their twenties. I want to think that if they lead healthy lives and make good decisions and stay away from drugs and crack houses and abusive relationships, and always wear their seatbelts and never drive drunk, they'll be okay. They'll live to be old people and they will bury me, not the other way around.


Jim Canto said...

I'm inclined to believe the answer would only create more questions.

Susie Davis said...

You are not alone. I've also had a fascination with always reading the obituaries. They don't have to be famous for me to be interested in reading about their accomplishments, their dreams, their story in general.

I came to Dr. Andrea Beerman and I was perplexed. She could be me. Same age, same love for running, yoga included. Nothing mentioned about donations, nothing mentioned about "suddenly" or "tragically". She was loved by many and her Facebook has been inundated with messages of condolences to the family.

Why did she pass on? It's still a mystery to me.

slider1964 said...

Hi..I found your blog going all "nancy drew"about Dr Beerman. After reading a few posts on her Facebook page, I have come to the conclusion that she committed suicide. I think she was so "perfect" that people who knew her are still in total shock. Obviously it's harder to be successful than we realise. What a sad..

Justin McDaid said...

I found this blog during my own search for the cause of Andrea Beerman's death. I saw the obit in the KC Star on Sunday & was really perplexed. I've never done this before, but Susie, I think you did a great job of explaining why we search for answers. Great post about a very sad situation.

KerreM said...

I was having breakfast Sat morning in Brookside, grabbed a paper and started reading. I ran across this obit- and felt very sad. I had a friend in 2008- 33 yrs old, beautiful girl, talented, funny, tons of friends...that committed suicide and sent me the suicide letter to read to her family. I saw Dr. Beerman's pic and immediately thought of Kelly. Today at work- a co-worker had cut the obit out of the paper and had it laying on her desk. She explained to me that it was a friend of her daughter's. I then started doing the research...and yes- it was suicide. And yes- I am sick inside. I will never know why Kelly did what she did- I had talked to her the very day that it happened. My heart goes out to this family. I have never gotten over my dear friend doing that- and I can't imagine what her friends and family are going through right now. I do not want to appear the "nosey-neighbor" in posting this....I just was googling Dr. Beerman and ran accross this blog. Very...very sad- i think it is nice that complete strangers on this blog have care and concern.

kyserr112 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kyserr112 said...

Sadly, there are only 2 reasons for her death: either suicide or drug overdose, neither of which would have been mentioned in the newspapers or obituary....

Karen said...

OMG, we are not only cut from the same cloth, we may be sewn together!! Besides having a lifelong addiction to obits (and you described why so eloquently)I have been OBSESSED about Andrea Beerman's death. Especially after going to her FB page and finding she blogged, on the day she died, about tooth, neck and spine if it were a normal day. As if she'd be back to tell you about flossing tomorrow. I'd already concluded it was most likely suicide due to the hush-hush nature of the obit and the shock so many people expressed about her passing...obviously not a debilitating illness that reached a blessed end. So when she blogged that day, did she already know this was going to be her last entry? Or was it an impulse, a response to an event or conversation?

I can understand why others may think dwelling on this and other strangers' deaths is odd, morbid, or none of my business. But like you, I want to solve the puzzle. I want to understand what happened. I want to be able to wrap my brain around it and see that it makes sense. I want a sense of control over something that, ultimately, isn't in our control at all.

Jennifer Bowlen said...

I just called her office to ask about my next cleaning and learned of Dr. Beerman's death. I am still in shock. She was such an inspiration, always friendly and positive. I was always glad to see her and felt good when I left. She touched my life in such a small way, but when you think about it, life is just a series of little moments. I am glad to have known Andrea. No one can completely know what goes on beyond the surface, behind the smile. I will go forward being kind to those around me. A friend of mine once told me "We all have our bag of rocks to drag around." I am sad that Andrea's bag of rocks got too heavy for her to bear.

Brandon Hutchison said... Here is your answer on her death. My sorority sister was great friends with Andrea. She seemed like a lovely person. Very sad :(

Barb said...

I too share your obsession. Crazy...My daughter, Ashley, died in 2009 at age 22...we buried her on her 23rd birthday. I included the exact cause of death "passed peacefully into the arms of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on December 1, 2009, ending her courageous seven-month battle against SinoNasal Undifferentiated Carcinoma." I felt I owed it to all the others, who like me, who would have searched until they found the cause of death. I've brought co-workers into the mysteries as well. Those left unsolved still eat at me from time to time. Oh least I'm not alone.

Barb said...

I too share your obsession. Crazy...My daughter, Ashley, died in 2009 at age 22...we buried her on her 23rd birthday. I included the exact cause of death "passed peacefully into the arms of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on December 1, 2009, ending her courageous seven-month battle against SinoNasal Undifferentiated Carcinoma." I felt I owed it to all the others, who like me, who would have searched until they found the cause of death. I've brought co-workers into the mysteries as well. Those left unsolved still eat at me from time to time. Oh least I'm not alone.

Kathleen Stander said...

Dear Barb,
Thank you for writing.
First, let me say that I am terribly sorry for your loss. I have two daughters, one who is about to turn 28; the other will celebrate her 22nd birthday Oct. 4.
I have always thought that should one of my children die (I also have a 25-year-old son), I would most assuredly follow them into the next world. Pretty darned sure I would die from heartbreak, or have a major myocardial infarction from the stress of the loss.
I imagine losing Ashley was the worst experience of your life ~ and on her birthday! I cannot begin to imagine what each day is like for you, knowing that you will not, in this life, be able to kiss or hug on your sweet girl. My heart breaks for you ... .
Part of me wants to say Thank You for publishing the cause of your daughter's death, but that makes me come across as uncaring. Your young adult child is gone and I am thankful that I know why she passed? Sounds so mean. Fortunately, you "get me" and others like me (us), who feel a compulsion to know why young people pass. Just Sunday, I read an obit about a 14-year-old boy who died. No mention of the how. Of course I wonder. Not to be morbid, but to try to understand why young people die for no apparent reason. There is still an enormous stigma associated with suicides, and although I hope and pray never to have to make the decision to state such cause, I think it would help us all to see that there are many, many people, young and old, who choose to take their own lives.
Again, thank you for writing.
Blessings ~

Dthornton said...
Watch the most recent 20/20 from this past Friday. Sheena Morris.
Andrea Beerman was our customer and I still can't believe what happened! So sad!