“Though lovers be lost, love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.”
Dylan Thomas, 1933
The Pasatiempo magazine comes every Friday with the local newspaper’s end of the week edition—the New Mexican’s “Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment and Culture.” Needless to say, with two yearling giant sized puppies hell bent on destroying my house, I don’t get out much. But I do like to browse the magazine. What caught my attention today was not the local events profiled inside, but rather the advertisement on the back cover: “An Open Letter to the Citizens of New Mexico.” The full page ad detailed a place called Orion’s Peace Camp and Learning Center. As it turns out, Orion Strong was a boy who attended the Peace Camp in 2005 as a seven year old. In 2013, at his eighth grade graduation, Orion received an award presented to the student who best exemplified the concept of selfless service and for his commitment to being drug and alcohol free. On November 10th, 2014, the ad stated that “Orion earned his angel wings after a 17 month battle with leukemia. Before he transitioned, Orion asked those who want to honor and remember him to do something to uplift the community.” Earned his angel wings? Transitioned? Why can’t we just say “He died.”? Because, as the poet Rilke said, “Der Tod ist gross.” Death is huge. And when it happens to a child, it is unthinkable and unmentionable.
Tuesday, October 25th would have been my nephew’s 21st birthday. He died on August 30th while away at college, about to begin his junior year. He was articulate, intelligent, handsome and beloved by his classmates. To celebrate his birthday, his friends and peers gathered at a harvested wheat field near the college in eastern Washington state. In the photographs, the wheat chaff is yellowed and lifeless against the ground and there is a roiling gray sky. There is a storm coming—one can feel it. His friends hold balloons, each emblazoned with a message for their lost friend. The barometric pressure rises, creating an intense feeling of suffocation. And then the balloons are gone, risen to the ether while his friends remain behind to grieve. There is a strange light in the horizon. It is dusk, but it seems like dawn. And death shall have no dominion.
I am sure that two years later, Orion Strong’s family is still grieving. And I am certain that we will be grieving the death of my nephew in every year to come as summer gives way to fall, as the leaves turn blazing colors and the nights grow cold. There is no making lemonade out of lemons when it comes to the death of a child, a brother, a grandchild, a nephew. We each have to do what we can—my sister will establish a scholarship in her son’s name at his college; I will go back to work to fight cancer and I will make a donation to Orion’s Peace Camp. And I hope that my nephew’s friends and classmates will remember him and seek help if they are struggling, and lend a hand to their peers that need guidance, and that each and every one of us will resolve to be a little kinder and a little more understanding. Death is real; death is huge, death is not a euphemism. But let us all strive so that in the end, no matter how or when it comes: “Death shall have no dominion.”