I think about death a lot.
Always have, even in my twenties. Mostly because I’ve always wanted to know what it was about. Is it really the end? And if it isn’t, what comes next?
Over the years, I’ve come to conclusions. And what I finally believe now is comforting, although I could be wrong about it. Doesn’t matter. Death IS what it IS. And in the end, we’ll all discover the truth on the other side, if there IS another side.
In the meantime, our assumptions about our annihilation or the bliss of Heaven are place holders to get us through our days, as long as they’re not tested. Because when someone you love suddenly dies, believing they’ve moved to some higher realm, or went to sleep and won’t wake up, doesn’t make the loss any easier.
Steve Jobs died this past week, and like many others, I too felt weepy for a man I didn’t personally know.
Why? Because Steve represented my generation, and the future where very cool toys are born. Who will now gift us those happy gadgets, the kind of things that bring us together to share ideas and experience art? Indeed, I am selfish. Steve was helping me cling to my youth and my fantasies.
Now I feel abandoned.
But as large as Steve Jobs was, in my personal life, he was only a symbol.
My heart was not broken when he left, just pinched.
Now however, I am sad. Very, very sad. For I got a call an hour and a half ago about a man who has been looking after me since I arrived at Warner Brothers six years ago.
He was a department head, and he died yesterday of a brain hemorrhage.
I was off the lot when it happened. But I came in today to sit in his office as I’ve done a hundred times before; joking with him, playing with his mind-bender hand toys as he took phone calls, discussing future projects and wrapping up old ones.
His name was Dean, and he was the kindest man I’ve ever known.
Upon seeing me sitting in front of Dean’s desk, as I remembered the man who negotiated my deals and gave me projects, Cole stepped into the office, moved to the space behind Dean’s empty seat and leaned against the bookcase. Cole worked for Dean as a controller in the room across the hall.
Cole is thirty. Dean was fifty-six. Dean was Cole’s mentor. Dean was my mentor. Dean was a mentor to many.
So without a word between us, Cole’s gaze dropped to what I had been viewing before he walked in: Dean’s work life: his lists, reports, schedules and phone headset; strewn out over his desk top, just as he had left it Wednesday evening.
My eyes lifted to Cole’s, and without a word between us, we wept. And then I stopped. I didn’t want to cry in front of Cole. I didn’t want to cry at all. I didn’t want to feel the sinking vacuum.
I wanted to detach myself and feel nothing.
So I retuned my gaze to Dean’s call list lying on his desk, and his pen beside it. I read the names of those he needed to phone, and the people he already had. The last check-off at the bottom of the list was R. P., a name I’m withholding for this post.
R. P. worked in the sales department of competitor vying for the same movies we were. I’ve know R for a long time. So had Dean. R was aggressive and insincere; the kind of guy who would tell you anything to land a contract. And he did. He was a hard player, a hard drinker, and at times a shrewd predator. But R’s competitive aggression, along with his determination to “get it” at any cost, had landed him in the hospital with a near heart attack.
From what I’ve been told, the last person Dean called before he died, was R. P., to wish him well in his recovery. This is the kind of man Dean was. And now he’s gone. We’ve lost one more nice guy. There aren’t enough of them.
I heard a sniff coming from Cole, and drying his eyes, he came to me for a hug, something men do when other men die. And then he left me, to shed more tears behind his closed door. Alone again, I took one more look at Dean’s life, frozen in time on his desk.
And then I thought, this could happen to anyone, any time. You drive home with a headache, get rushed to the hospital and die in brain surgery.
I’ve always known it. I needed the reminder.
As far as I know, Dean had no unfinished business, no salacious secrets, no cravings for things he didn’t have. No lost love. Dean had a thousand friends, and a family that loved him.
I loved him. I will miss him, and I will forever remember his desk top where life stopped without warning.
Tonight, I will call my parents and take my wife out to dinner. Tonight, I will celebrate the NOW, for tomorrow may never come. Or it may throw us to the Other Side.
I hope Dean knows.