Here's introducing today's guest post from Samantha Varnerin!
A Reflection On Death In A Suburban Parking Lot
"Credit or debit?" asked the Hannaford's cashier as I tried to swipe my credit card for my neighbor's grocery list. The neighbor would later repay me with a check when I returned with the groceries that she had sent me out to get. I did many things for her family as she had arthritis in both her knees and her husband was still recovering from his trip to the hospital after being on 100% oxygen, something that doctors told his wife he could not come back from. You could say he temporarily cheated death.
When I swiped my card that day, I only saw the flash in the parking lot out of my eye, but I'll never forget that loud BOOM I heard and the heads whip and people run towards the large glass window facing the parking lot. It was then that we saw the flames in the back corner of the lot. The entire store was still. No one dared to breathe.
"Call 911," the store manager calmly and quietly said to one checkout counter. Amidst the silence, as the entire half of the store paused to watch the scene unfolding in front of us, his quiet words were deafening.
This was my first encounter with witnessing death. I was 18.
I got my groceries and went to my car, hoping it would still be there when I came out to find it. A group of people had gathered around looking for what had happened, many of us thinking a car had exploded. No, this fire looked less like a car and more like it had some kind of airplane wings.
Airplane wings? There was a small private airport for local, short trips just one town over. Could it be from that?
After the fires were put out, I watched as the paramedics put sheets over melting, formless balls of black. People groaned and looked away. I had no idea what was going on until someone said "Those poor people..."
Then it hit me. They weren’t talking about the paramedics – they were talking about the sheets. I just saw dead people. People who were alive less than an hour ago, and now they were on the ground of this parking lot... lifeless, shapeless charred pieces on the ground, now covered in white. My spine tingled despite the sweltering August weather. It kept me from moving. I wanted to run away, but I simultaneously felt captivated by the new sight and couldn’t stop staring in disbelief. My face was straight and expressionless as I processed everything before me.
Up until that moment, I only personally knew of the "happy" stories about death: the ones that ended with well wishes from the family, from old age, after a long struggle with cancer and friends supporting until the last breath, and time in hospice so that they could receive a proper goodbye. This was the first time I had encountered swift, unexpected death. Even though I didn't know these people, I could practically feel the pain from the close ones that would learn about it later. They would be in so much anguish that they didn't get a chance to say goodbye, not knowing that the last time they saw them would be the last time they would ever see them. If they had known it was the last time, would they have done anything differently?
I reflected on my own life. I was 18, an all-season athlete, who stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and never drove past midnight. I was a perfect goodie-two-shoes, and I was happy. Despite all of this, I too could get into an airplane accident. I could get into a life-threatening car crash. I could take the wrong step somewhere and die. A number of things could happen to take my life, or anyone else's, at any time. And I might not have that chance to say goodbye.
That thought terrified me. I had so many dreams to fulfil, so many people I wanted to help, so many places I wanted to go. It was possible that I may never get to do any of those things; that despite taking care of myself to avoid an untimely death, life could take me when I least expected it... and I didn't want that.
So what could I do? I drove blankly home, hypnotized by the thoughts flashing in my head of what I might do differently if I had such little time left to live.
"Sam?" Margaret, my neighbor, asked me when I came in the door to deliver her groceries. I almost forgot to bring them back to her home. "Are you okay?" She furrowed her brow and I hugged her and her husband Frank, and then I asked if I could go home for the rest of the day. Normally I would have stayed to help clean up her house and walk her dog, but I couldn't even think about those things right now. I patted Mack, the prima-donna Shetland Sheep Dog, and left Margaret’s house to go home and think on my own. No one was there, so I simply went to my bed to let my own mortality linger in my head.
I should be safe in my own bed, I thought, unless my life is like Donnie Darko and something comes crashing into my own room. But today I am safe. Today I have life. But today I will also weep. The tears which been held back deep in my eyes now released, and I cried and let a piece of my innocence die. I was no longer a stranger to death. I had just witnessed it firsthand, and I now knew how it could destroy more than just the people it takes.
Samantha Varnerin is an engineer from Boston, Massachusetts that recently left the field after four years to pursue her work as a professional snuggler (snugglewithsam.com). She is passionate about helping people work through difficult circumstances in their lives through therapeutic touch. She is currently training other snugglers as she builds her own professional agency, Snuggle with a Pro, so she can help more people. Her unique decisions and perspectives on how to handle what life throws at her has made her a storyteller and advice giver among her friends, and you can read more about her life at mylifeisneverboring.com and on medium (medium.com/@sevarn).