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?