Surfside disaster

Miami, Florida, has been in the national news lately for a truly horrific disaster. On June 24, 2021, in the wee hours of the morning, one of the towers of the 12 story condo building called “Surfside” on Miami Beach suddenly collapsed. Most of the residents and guests were deeply asleep. A lucky few heard something strange and got out in time, a few others weren’t present in their home for one reason or another, a really lucky few were recovered alive from the rubble.

Mostly, the rescuers are finding bodies. Children, adults in their prime, newlyweds, visitors from other countries and the elderly, people who have lived and people who have so much more living to do. The building was populated by quite a few Jewish people, all of whom are deeply connected to the community. It’s hard to find someone who has lived in this area for very long who doesn’t know someone connected to the disaster. My husband has co-workers who know people and/or who have distant relatives still missing. I keep hearing about other connections through friends. As large as Miami is, there are a LOT of ways we are all connected.

The horrible tragedy has made the front page of local and national newspapers, newscasts and people are coming out of the woodwork to talk about why it happened. Lawsuits have been filed and engineers are working overtime to figure out why and what happened and to prevent the same awful collapse from happening elsewhere. With each new body found, the families are able to grieve and the obituaries are posted. Some families have recovered keepsakes. Many others are still waiting.

I’ve watched closely how the deaths have been memorialized, how those connected to the tragedy are grieving, and how support is offered to the families. It’s not often that the grieving process is so public, so immediate, and covered in every minute detail by the media.

Is this fascination morbid? I haven’t decided yet, perhaps you have an opinion on that. I’d love to hear it.

There is a reason behind my fascination and it’s my diagnosis with terminal/incurable cancer.

I’ve often wondered, since my Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) diagnosis in 2017 whether it would be “better/easier” to die in the way those living at Surfside did, quickly and without warning, or to linger for years. My paternal grandfather died of a brain aneurysm, he crumpled to the group while getting the mail. I often thought this was a blessing since he was such an active, vibrant man and disliked being dependent on others. Much like me.

I watch others in the MBC Community as they begin to fade, sometimes in the blink of an eye, and how much more open they are to planning for death, when it seems more imminent. This fascination is fueled by the knowledge that where they go, so soon will I. It is impossible not to compare details, the places of metastases, the lines of treatment, the complementary care, the way the other people dealt with this terminal disease.

How else can we find a roadmap for how to do this thing that we each undertake solo. No one (at least that I’ve talked to) comes back after a death to tell the rest of us what to expect, what to do, how to plan. We are left sourcing ideas from various cultural or religious traditions, to watching others go through it, to the “norms” set by the funeral industry, to the traditions of our families’ in the past, etc.

Bottom line for me?

I want to learn as much as possible from others in order to inform my decision-making and hopefully be as prepared as possible for this next transition, from this life to something/somewhere else. In my tradition, there is the hope of heaven and I hold on to that hope as tightly as possible as I think about what’s next and do my best to prepare my boys (6 and 8 as I type this post) for that inevitability.

And now it’s your turn — what does your tradition tell you about death? How are you preparing for this inevitability? Does having an illness make that better/worse? What thoughts do you have to share?

25 thoughts on “Surfside disaster

  1. Only a few days ago had a similar conversation with someone. My experience is limited, but from it, sudden death seems far more difficult for survivors. Death after a long illness will often be experienced as a release or a relief; and, people will often have faced the inevitable and will have made some plans, and will have done some of their grieving already, and will have begun making adjustments. But most people themselves want to die at least relatively suddenly. This suggests to me that there’s probably an optimum. Not that we get to choose.

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  2. My experience is that just as each birth and life experience is unique, each end-of-this-life experience is unique. Although we can learn from the experience of others, what it will be for us, whether it be our own death or that of loved ones, will be unique. I am grateful for my faith which assures me of God’s presence and provision through whatever I experience, whether it be sudden or long-suffering.

    Joe and I recently updated end-of-life documents, assigning our now adult children with some of the roles previously accepted by other family members. We also established and prepaid for our funeral arrangements. Some people see that as morbid. Having lived through the passing of Joe’s parents, I see it as a gift to those left behind. They will be dealing with many emotions, we want to minimize the decisions they will have to make. It was interesting the difference in response from our two daughters. (Their perspectives on any topic prove to be very different…) One was very grateful and appreciative and saw our pre-planning as a gift. That perspective partly comes from her experience with her in-laws who seem to plan for nothing and the burden she already feels for what will happen in the future. The other daughter was somewhat taken aback that we would even be thinking about these things. I had to carefully explain our thinking and assure her that she doesn’t need to dwell on this, just keep the reference info I sent her in a safe place for the right time.

    Blessings to you, dear one, as you navigate your planning for and processing of your end of this life. It is uniquely yours, and each of your loved ones will experience it uniquely.

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  3. Although, intellectually, we know we all will die, I think most of us find it hard to truly believe. The denial goes deep. Hence, the shock of a sudden event like the collapse of the condo block. We can’t believe life can be over …

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  4. One of my parents died rather suddenly; the other slowly. Both were excruciatingly hard. We get what we get. I’ve done some planning, not all of it. Gifts I give, photos I stage, activities I plan all have meaning and are not on accident. They are for now and for someday.

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  5. From a personal faith point of view. One of the times I was in hospital with neutropenic sepsis it was made very clear to me that I might not make it. I can remember having a clear sense that all would be well, that Jesus would be with me always … that I am loved and precious. Much love to you x

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    1. I was totally shocked as well and that it was structural is even more of a worry. So many buildings having to be recertified now and the codes will likely get more stringent as well.


  6. I’ve tried not to watch the surfside disaster too much. It can get overwhelming. I had trouble with watching too much 911 coverage as well as the Oklahoma City bombing… I was only 21 when Oklahoma happened… the reality of it was just so mindblowing!

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  7. My daughter, Bethany, died on November 14, 2020. It was not from Covid 19, It was from MBC. She planned her final wishes from the day that her liver biopsy proved to be Stage 4. She was a very active Professor at FIU and believed in planning her own departure from this earth. As her mother I watched as her cancer and certain drugs, including chemo, changed her abilities to enjoy life with her two boys. In the beginning of 2020 when she barely lived through a chemo overdose, her plan included a bucket list and the one thing she wanted the most was a trip to Hawaii with her husband and two little guys. And then Covid changed everything! Just as the building collapse changed everything in one day for so many families and Covid changed everything for over 600,000 families in one year, her MBC changed everything in her remaining plans. She was a planner and she planned with an attorney how her end of life would be. The only thing is this! We can not really plan our end of life because we will never know the exact date or time. Thus we must live every day to it’s fullest! She did not sign her final wishes with the attorney, thus, just like the families of the collapse, their final plans may not have been signed. I have never endured sooo much grief, thus no matter how much planning we make, we are really not in control. But, like I commented at my daughter’s funeral, “Bethany lived in her 42 years, more than many of us live in a century.” So it matters more how we live our lives than how we die.

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    1. Thank you, Connie, for sharing. I miss Bethany so much. She did indeed fit a lot of living into the time that she had with her family and you are so right, it’s about how we live that’s important. Does it help you to write about these things? To share about her experiences? I’ve heard from so many that it is cathartic, just as it is cathartic for me to blog about living with MBC. Love and hugs to you.


      1. Love and hugs to you also! Writing the memories of my days with my daughter helps me to clarify my grieving. She took me to so many places in our short time together here in Miami. Something sooo special to both of us. Time together became very busy in 2020. And because of Covid, the hugging was sooo minimal. One day we actually kissed without our masks on and we both felt like criminals. Even at her funeral, her family could not attend. I kept a journal of her meds and trips to the hospital and sooo wanted her to get a second opinion. I can’t even count the times that she reminded me that, “I AM AN ADULT”, I will die MY way.” You are sooo similar to Bethany in sooo many ways!! Her death has changed our family dynamics in sooo many ways. My suggestion is just live every day, hug, love, and kiss your mom, even on the cheek. Trust me, she needs it!!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  8. After reading the comments and the initial blog, I might add a few comments. Living in the northern edge of I-75, I have not followed the Miami area condo story, as some of you have. My faith is in God alone and His Son, Jesus! I have imagined my own funeral and figuring out which charities to donate to. So far the MBC has not progressed from the initial diagnosis, but there is always the ‘what if’ factor. I know that I should look at things, financial and otherwise, so others have less difficulty making those decisions.
    Abigail, thank you for sharing the things and decisions that you and your husband are going through the MBC process.
    I do not do a blog, but send e-mail updates to family and friends, which help to relate things that are going on.

    Thank you once again for your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Esther, for your perspective and for following my musings here on my blog. Living with #MBC is truly different for each person and we have to make our own peace with that however we can. That being said, it is recommended generally by experts to resolve and organize financial and other matters when your disease is stable and you are feeling well, so as not to have to make decisions in the midst of a crisis. I know, easier said than done. Sending love and hugs to you.


  9. I lost my year – younger sister to hear disease 6 weeks ago. A totally unexpected death. She had horrible heart disease. She did not have a will we could find and the only thing we (her 5 susters) knew was where she wanted to be buried. Since I’m the oldest and have MBC, I’m sure my susters thought I’d die first. But you can’t plan the when and you can only request what you’d like to have hsppy at the end. Please do this so you don’t leave family members guessing! I have written about what I’d like. I jabs tried to have discussions with my adult children (they turned it into a comic scene probably because they are scared. I am scared. I don’t want to die now, but my sisters death taught me that I get no choice.

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  10. I come from the same tradition as you do – hope of an afterlife, I hold onto trusting because not trusting is very debilitating for me… I believe in Love – in whatever form and outcome; having an illness challenges me to trust even more. I not only trust in Love I also trust in my friends and family members to celebrate my death with dignity. But I m not a very traditional person and am open to thinking out the box.

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