The Event Horizon: Death(1)

I offer the following series as an addition to your cultural sea. For me however, it has little to do with culture. It is a singularity which I orbit in a decaying fashion, eventually to be swallowed by it. You are following the same trajectory, whether you want to or not. I shall be fascinated to read your thoughts along the way, because many of you are traveling at high velocity, though you may not know it. Death awaits us.

What is death? And what happens when you die?

Years back, I was heading out on a research trip to Europe. While driving away from my home onboard the airport shuttle, I glimpsed my smiling kindergartner walking home from school. I waved, but he did not see me.

I arrived at my destination, planning to stay about a month. It was late spring, mid-June. The weather was beautiful, flowers in bloom and I was staying on a university campus, in an empty dorm. Not the most comfortable accommodations you could wish for, no food service, large community shower. But dark and very quiet, like a grave. Completely alone during the evening and early morning hours, I found it easy to study, but not always easy to think.

One morning at 3 a.m. I awoke to someone pounding on my door. It was my research collaborator. As I dressed he quickly told me of a phone call he had received from one of my neighbors. There was an emergency at home and I was to call as soon as possible. There was no useful phone service in the dorm and he hurriedly drove me to his place where his wife waited, looking somber, but saying nothing. I tried calling home, but frustratingly, no one answered.

Later, I was able to get through and spoke to my wife. She told me that our penultimate child, our five-year-old, in the company of another boy, had squeezed through a fence guarding a local canal. He wanted to wash some pretty stones on the bank to give to my wife, but he got too close to the edge and slipped down the mossy concrete side into the very cold mountain waters. My son had taken swimming lessons, but was unprepared for this experience. The water was far too swift for him to fight it. The boy who witnessed the accident was so shocked that instead of running home with the news, he walked in a daze. When he arrived he simply said to his mother, “I guess Eric’s dead.” His father, who could not swim himself, ran to the canal and found my son floating face down a few hundred yards from the point of entry. Paramedics were called and revival was attempted. Continuing CPR, they went to the emergency room where his heart was restarted. Two ward members gave a blessing.

The next day, while writing in my journal, sitting in my dorm room, praying that my son would live, I knew he was now dead. When my friend picked me up to use the phone at his home, I confirmed this with my tearful wife. His heart had stopped during the night and he could not be revived.

The next few days I did not sleep. My heart rate stayed high, above 160. I was able finally to get a flight to Paris but had to change airports there for a flight to the US. By good fortune (I believe intervention) the way was opened and I made the flight as the doors were closing. Another two ad hoc links got me to my home. A scene of immense pain awaited. My wife was shattered. I met my other children on the stairs and I shall never forget their embrace as we sobbed together.

At the funeral home, I went into a side room to see his body. I put my arms around him, wishing for a Lazarus-like experience I knew would not come, while I held the cold lifeless body to me. In my minds eye, there came a kind of vision. My little boy and I were standing on a boat, docked at a wooden peer. My son stepped off and the boat moved out into the stream. I watched his face disappear in the mist as fear overtook me. I was forgetting him. His expressions, dinner conversation, laughter, the feel of his soft breathing as we cuddled in a sleeping bag during our nutty winter camps, his beautiful smile. They were already leaving me.

(part 2 is here.)


  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    Oh, WVS… I’m speechless. That was heartbreaking.

  2. I said this when I first read this, and I’ll say it again: this is poignant and terrible, and surely a blessing to many, WVS.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    I hope everyone appreciates just how important and special this post is. It’s an immense blessing to get to read pieces like these.

  4. Thank you for trusting us with this, WVS.

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    My twins are now 5. After reading this yesterday, I couldn’t even separate from them for the night.

    This is a startlingly clear view, WVS.

  6. The metaphor of the singularity is interesting and applicable. The loss of information at the event horizon and your last sentence is a fascinating contrast.

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss. This is beautifully written.

    Death is a strange thing. As a diabetic I’m more aware of it than a lot of people (I’ve almost died a couple times). I’ve also lost two siblings, and I know exactly what you mean about forgetting. A couple years ago I saw a stranger in a restaurant that looked sort of like my brother. It brought back to me how my brother used to stand and move, his mannerisms…it’s hard to explain what that moment was like. The surprise of getting just a tiny glimpse of him again.

  8. I remember it well, how shattering it was for all of us, not knowing quite what we could do to help.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  9. I, too, am speechless. But I wanted to at least thank WVS for posting it.

  10. Thank you WVS. The boat, the mist, the images are burning me up.

  11. I watched it happen to my mother a few years ago. She seemed to just slowly disappear, very much as you describe your vision of the boat. My mother was angry at the time. I think she felt cheated. I didn’t know what to say to her. I still don’t.

  12. This is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing your pain with us – that takes courage. God bless.

  13. Diane: It’s always difficult to know what to say or do in such situations. For me, I felt isolated, but it was something I wanted. My wife appreciated people’s sentiments, but sometimes felt angry about them (someone sort of equated the loss of their dog – she couldn’t get past that for a while). My wife has often referred to me as Spock, for reasons you can guess. I feel things, but rarely engage in public acknowledgement. But she is right. I *am* less emotive than most, most of the time.

  14. Researcher says:

    I am so sorry.

    I am working right now on a short biographical talk to give at my niece’s funeral tomorrow, and came over to the blogs to think about something else for a few minutes. (Or so I thought.) It is so sad to lose a young child to a sudden accident, and knowing how hard it is on the family, I can’t even imagine adding the hardship of being halfway around the world when it happened.

    Earlier, I clicked over to another family blog, and a distant cousin, knowing about the tragedy in the family, had thought about it for a few days and then posted a letter that her g-g-grandmother wrote to a brother who was serving a mission in New Zealand when his son was killed in another such accident. The sentiments that the grandmother expresses are so familiar to everything we’ve been experiencing the past week.

    I’d like to say a lot more on the theme of forgetting and loss, on the feeling of being surrounded in the midst of tragedy by blessing and meaning and comfort and family and community support, but I’d better stop with these thoughts. Thank you for the post.

  15. This is so painful to read. You are right in your first paragraph when you say that many of us are traveling there and aren’t aware. I pray that I love and hold those near and dear to me enough while I have them. This reminds me of a song I have been listening to almost daily by Hilary Weeks called “If I Only Had Today”. When I first heard it, I thought of one of my sons (3 years old) and how I don’t appreciate and enjoy him enough.

    Thank you for this post, WVS.

  16. I can’t think of anything more painful than to lose a child. If such a thing exists, I hope I never experience it. I don’t think I’d come through it in one piece.

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    Oh, Lord. :<

    So … Friday night I had an amazing conversation with the woman who has been my best fried, on and off, for pretty much my entire adult life. And I decided that I don't want to die for a long long time, if ever.

    Then I saw Never Let Me Go on Saturday. And now this. I feel so big and hollow. Thanks WVS!

  18. I’m sorry for your loss WVS. The words of King Theoden of Lord of the Rings has struck me from when I first heard them: “no one should have to bury their child” and then he broke into tears. Those words carry more meaning in my heart now that I have a 4 year old daughter who likes to press those safety boundaries, so innocently. My only comfort in death is that we all pass through, and at the oddest times in life. We’ve built such a comfortable and luxurious world around us here in America that has allowed us to prize our lives more than in previous generations. Our identity has more meaning and more value. We can envision for our children a promising future: get an education, find a well paying job, and have children of their own. In the end, we will all pass on. If my daughter leaves before me, I doubt there will be a day I will not sorrow.

  19. Echoing the sentiments of others – I am sorry for your loss.

    The death of a child is an unspeakable loss of unmeasurable dimension. My heart goes out to you, your wife and family.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Three summers ago my then three year old son was run over by a drunk driver and dragged several dozen feet underneath the vehicle before being finally spit out. I witnessed the whole thing and thought he’d been killed. However, he survived and by the grace of God is now whole again.

    I know what you mean by being sucked into that event horizon from where there is no return. It took me months after the accident to finally pull back from the brink. Every once in a while though I still feel its tug.

    You have my very deepest sympathies.

  21. nat kelly says:

    Wow, WVS. You are such an amazing addition to BCC. This is heartrending and masterful. Thanks for sharing the gift of your eloquence with all of us, who are with you on trying to find understanding.

  22. Thank you and I’m sorry.

  23. So wrenching and tragic, with several young boys of my own I can hardly bear it. Thank you for sharing this. So, so sorry for your loss.

  24. Thank you for sharing this. I, and others, have been blessed by your story.

  25. Even now, even now, one of the worst parts of the pain is the loss of the memories that seems to never end.

    In our Compassionate Friends group that was a constant theme. How little we could hold on to, so very little.

    I’m so sorry for you.

  26. Mother of five says:

    It is so comforting to know that faith can help us in these cases. Nothing worse than loosing a child.
    To remember that our child is a child of God in the first place makes us feel better. God trusted us to raise the child while on earth until it is time for him/her to go back to Heavenly Father. He is not with you but he is safe and happy, waiting for his eternal family to join him. If you keep praying sorrow will go away, pain will be gratitude and -even when it will still hurt -you still have the hope to see your son again.

    Please trust the Lord. He will comfort you as He has done with me.

  27. This article brings tender thoughts to my mind even after many years. My wife and I lost a 3 month old, then two years later a 4 year old, and about 20 years later a 31 year old. All suffered from a chronic disease. I’m now in my early 70’s and can still remember them but the pain has been replaced with a sure knowledge that in the not to distant future I will enjoy their company again.

  28. Thanks for all your kinds thoughts.

  29. WVS, Thank you for sharing your heartbreaking story with us. Just as you say, we are truly hurtling through this world at light speed and so often forget there has to be an end – until it stops us in our tracks.

    Once in awhile it hits me out of the blue that this is all a temporary existence. The older I get, the more often these thoughts pass my mind. I seem to cling to everyone around me a little tighter knowing that someone is going to have to leave me eventually. I’ve been blessed to have two of my grandparents still with me. They are in their late 90s. My parents who are approaching 70, and I have a large extended family, as well as a husband and children. We expect those who are older to go first. We never expect the younger ones. A child’s death often seems so much harder and crueller to bear. They had so much life to live and we had so many dreams for them. In reality, they are definitely the most blessed to be able to escape the pains of an aging physical body, and the sorrows of the mortal world to return to a heavenly home.

    I think perhaps we mourn so deeply not because we want to keep them, but because we are being left behind. Our souls long to return home with those who received their boarding pass first. We must learn to bide our time and wait our turn. I am glad your post was featured in the Mormon Times BBB today. Thank you for sharing. Keep the faith! MoSop

  30. Oh, WVS, I’m so sorry!

  31. Beautifully written. I am sorry for your loss.

  32. I am so sorry WVS. This brought tears to my eyes as I contemplated my own young children and what it would be like should I lose them. I feel blessed that you have chosen to share such tender events with us. Thank you!

  33. I am speechless, thank you for sharing such a personal experience and in a thought provoking way…

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