... wounded people, still hungry for answers, stumble after him,
with the lameness that comes from a foot in the grave.

~ Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking


There is a great scene in the film Donnie Darko. An Scene for film Donnie Darkoairplane engine from nowhere falls from the sky onto a house. Afterwards, the family sits around in a hotel room re-running what happened, dissecting the event, trying to solve the mystery. When I saw the movie years ago, that scene struck me as very authentic. This is what people were likely to do if their world was turned upsidedown by something inexplicable. They would probably obsess about it, pick it apart, try to figure it out.

After Doug died suddenly in the middle of a lunchtime jog, I spent a very long time (people around me probably thought FAR too long) trying to understand what had happened.

On the other hand, another family member did not even think an autopsy was necessary. His response was, "What's the point? Nothing can be done about it." (The ER doctor explained an autopsy was required in cases where the cause of death is not apparent. He also noted that the information might help Doug's siblings.)

I launched forward alone. I learned as much as I could about heart disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis, cardiomegaly, left ventricular hypertrophy, sinus bradycardia, syncope during exercise, malignant arrhythmias and the side effects of ARB blood pressure medications. I poured through decades of Doug's medical records, his autopsy results, medical protocols and the FDA's adverse reaction database. I talked to the guys who were running with him that day before the split up, the supervisor of the EMT first responders, the Emergency Room physician, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, our family physician, and a cardiac nurse.

In the end, I knew more. I also felt like I had gone through an emotional wringer. I can't say for sure whether this process helped me come to terms with what happened or not, or whether it simply prolonged the agony. Andrew Solomon said "Those who make comprehension the precondition of acceptance destine themselves to unremitting misery." (Anatomy of a Murder-Suicide, New York Times 12/23/2012)

I was recently communicating with someone whose father had died suddenly. I saw myself in her, as she desperately searched for an explanation. It made me wonder why some of us seek answers, while others figure "what's done is done," and let it lie. I'm not saying one is the right approach and the other is wrong - they are just different.

In my case, there were probably a variety of drivers for the search for answers.

  • It is part of man's search for meaning. We expect senseless things to "make sense." Some people are curious, and have an overwhelming need to know and understand. For me, knowledge brings understanding.
  • The scientist and auditor in me. I want to solve the problem of what caused his untimely death.
  • I am a proactive person, always looking for solutions. I wanted to know, even in retrospect, whether his death was preventable. If the outcome could have been different. (It was.)
  • I was trying to learn from the experience. And I did. I wish I had asked this many questions and learned this much before Doug died. In the future, I will be much more skeptical about a doctor's advice. I will pay more attention and be more inquisitive about health complaints. I will want more tests and second opinions when the outcome is potentially serious.
  • The child in me kicked in. When my parents told me I couldn't do something, I always wanted to know the reason why - probably so I could argue with them. Maybe in this case, I wanted to argue with life (and death.)
  • It served as a distraction from dealing with the reality of Doug's death.
  • It was a place to pour all that I had been giving Doug - my time, my love, etc.

But in the end, it was probably mostly about trying to assert some control over a situation that was out of control. With regard to Doug's death, one of THE hardest things for me to accept was that here was nothing I could do to change what happened to him.


There are, however, things I can to do now to heal, and to remember Doug. I also hope that what I have learned might help someone else - maybe someone I don't even know. That is where I will try to direct my energies going forward.



We cannot control all that happens to us,
but we can control how we choose to respond. 
We can choose to overcome and survive it. 

~ Eleanora Ross




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