Walking to class recently, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read, “Protected by angels.” I appreciate the sentiment, but it is wrong. Death can claim anyone at any time. Even an invisible hero.
My first experiences with death came when I was 8 and 9 years old. During those years, two of my great-grandparents died. Ma’am-Ma’am, as we called her, was in her 80s. Great-Gramma Jerry was in her 70s. Ma’am-Ma’am had spent years living in a nursing home but was always lively and active and was always with us at family gatherings. Great-Gramma Jerry was always sicklier and in more pain for much longer.
I loved them both, but I notice that as a child, I did not truly understand that I would never see them again. I didn’t truly miss them because I didn’t understand that they were gone. I miss them a great deal now, but it took a long time to understand that they were never coming back.
In recent years, death and life have been intermixed. During my freshman year at Kent, Beverly, the matriarch of a family that was close to mine, died shortly before spring break. Going home was a very sad affair. Beverly had been a part of my life for as long as I could recall. Yet her death was balanced by my finally getting to meet my oldest cousin’s first child, Gage, who was by then about two months old.
This was repeated in a less dramatic fashion this past summer. My dog of 11 years, Ally, died of old age – and just weeks later, my youngest cousin’s son, Brock, was born. Death and birth have been for me very intimately mixed of late, and have vividly illustrated a very important lesson:
This is not always a comforting message. Trying to comfort a grieving person with that message can be genuinely insulting. Still, I’m trying to keep this in mind in the wake of Dr. Trudy Steuernagel’s death. Plenty of us at the Stater, myself included, have written about her these past few weeks.
In all honesty, I can’t imagine a more horrible death – especially not for Steuernagel who spent 18 years raising a son who could never have the kind of future most sons do. And not for Sky who may not even understand what he allegedly did and who will never again see his mother who loved him unconditionally. They both deserved better from life.
And yet, I also find myself reminded of the lesson that Gage and Brock taught me: Life endures.
Dr. Steuernagel was an amazing instructor because she cared about those around her. She wanted to help others learn, and she wanted to help others succeed in their lives. She cared, and she would surely want everyone who cared about her to remember to look forward to tomorrow – especially Sky. His life will never be the same, but it is my fervent hope that the legal system find the appropriate way to treat someone so severely autistic and that it behave toward him with mercy rather than vengeance.
A son has lost his mother, and a mother has been robbed of her life. Death can come for any of us at any time. Yet it is how we deal with death, how we continue living, that matters. We are reminded that our time is precious and that none among us knows how many days they have left – which is why it is important to embrace life. Act from hope, not fear, and behave with compassion and mercy, not vengeance. Only then will you be alive, rather than waiting for death.
So here’s to Trudy Steuernagel. Here’s to Ma’am-Ma’am and Great-Gramma Jerry. Here’s to Beverly. And here’s to Gage – to life.
Contact senior political science and theatre studies major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater Zach [email protected]