Death is generally a terrible occurrence.
Even if the end of one’s life results in the termination of significant suffering or severe discomfort, death is rarely, if ever, welcome. When an eighty year old man is administered a final dose of morphine and drifts off into extinction—years after being diagnosed with dementia and months after he can speak or remember—the death is at most a relief and at least still terribly sad. This is because the man could have been without dementia and so could have been otherwise perfectly healthy and living a fruitful existence. Although the man wasn’t in fact in good health, he could have been—at least in today’s modern world. And this makes his death an altogether unfortunate, if not terrible thing, even though it might have been a relief.
If death is generally a terrible occurrence, then an untimely death is even more so. When a girl dies in a car crash at the young age of ten, the event is at once, and unquestionably, tragic. She should have enjoyed a healthy life for many more years. If the girl had endured months of unending suffering prior to her untimely death, it would seemingly be even more tragic. Young cancer patients who die from the disease, then, are arguably the most horrifically sad cases of all.
Death caused by cancer at a young age is unequivocally the most unbearable type of death because the young man or woman should have been healthy: the seventeen year old boy should have been driving around with his friends rather than at the hospital for treatment; the twenty one year old woman should have been strolling through campus with her friends, or out on a date, or doing any number of other things rather than methodically punching a button to administer morphine so as to mitigate the dreadful pain caused by the disease that would eventually take her life. Young people that die from cancer not only should have been healthy, but they should not have had to suffer so immensely and so plentifully. Although the final, irrevocable, and fatal overdose of drug will ultimately bring about relief, as the young person’s suffering will end for eternity, that same dosage will end his or her life and will result in a tragedy still because he or she should not have been unhealthy; he or she should have lived a much longer time with much greater pleasure to experience yet.
The consequences of a tragic death as described are immense: the mother is inconsolable and the father brought to tears; the widow is left breathless and the in-laws reeling; the friends of the deceased can only reminisce about enjoyable times with their passing mate, which brings about bouts of euphoria followed by heartbreaking sobs. Everyone, although they can feel appreciative for having known the young person and for having experienced enjoyable times with the person, is left saddened and, perhaps more so, upset. And what makes the sadness all the more insufferable is that it is directed at nothing in particular: when we lose a loved one to cancer at a young age, we are mad at the world, but the world is not responsive to our feelings and our feelings are left unnoticed. We want to blame someone or something for the tragedy, yet we have no one thing to blame. Can we blame the sky, or the earth, or the cancer cells that slowly took the life from the person we hold dear? Perhaps. But the sky nor the earth nor the cancer cells can hear our scorn or change the world for us. We are left mad with the world and there in nothing—absolutely nothing—we can do to change it. We are impotent.
Death is very probably at its cruelest when it takes the life of a brilliant, loving, gregarious young man after making him suffer immeasurably for over a year. Such a death may take place in the near future and I happen to know the affable young man who will be the recipient. This young man, at twenty-six years of age, was dealt a hand in life that he was incapable of winning with: Ewing’s sarcoma. The fact that he is such a remarkably gifted and caring individual makes his case especially difficult to swallow. It is a tragedy, on all accounts, that he has had to suffer and that, save for a miracle in every sense of the word, he will most probably not be around for much longer. He is one that should have been healthy; that should have enjoyed countless happinesses for years to come; that should have continued to positively affect the lives of those around him; that should have watched his young son grow up into a blossoming youth and into a joyous man like himself. Instead, his hand will play out as it was dealt to him. The world will be at a loss when his card game is over. Life can be quite unfair.