Death Be Not Proud: An Ode to my Brother-in-Law Jonathan

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
--John Donne

John Donne’s poem isn’t one I have pondered in a very long while, but it rose up into my consciousness this past week. No wonder with all these occurrences: an unexpected death, a long awaited birth, not to mention the recent events in Las Vegas. Today couldn’t get more complicated could it? Good things–overshadowed by tragedy. But I won’t let death win. Death be not proud: it is all too easy to die. Each day we live past the next is a triumph over death.

I turned 46 today. My brother-in-law, Jonathan, found face first in the pool last week, made it to 48.

I can see him smiling, his sweet, innocent smile, wondering what all the fuss is over him. He lived humbly and kindly. He was a blessing to his mom, who just 7 months earlier had lost her husband, his dad. Before the last hurricane, Jonathan had an inkling this wouldn’t be an ordinary storm. A week ahead of the more common last minute panic, he went quietly about shopping and stocking up for the road closures and lack of power he knew would follow the winds.

I thought of him when I was making my famous ground turkey meat sauce the other night. During our visits to my in-laws, my mother-in-law would always ask me to make my specialty. But Jonathan never let me cook alone. He would get out the pots and pans for me, start the water boiling for pasta. If I needed to tend to one of my kids, he would take over stirring the sauce.

Jonathan had a passion for many things in life, one of which was chess, but he wasn’t a loner in his pursuits. He wanted to share that with our kids and the kids he taught at the local chess club. We have his books How to Beat Your Dad at Chess and Chess Tactics for Kids on permanent loan to us, which he asked my kids to take good care of. He sent his nephew, my son, a competition grade chess set for his birthday and, when we visited, patiently sat with him teaching him the more tricky moves.

It’s hard to think about death without celebrating life. Yesterday was the birth of Jonathan’s first cousin’s first born son, an event he and his mom had been looking forward to. They were supposed to Facetime with the newborn as soon as he came out into the world. I can picture Jonathan smiling and getting all googly eyed at the adorable little infant, that we were planning to drive up together to see over the winter. 

And today is my birthday and Jonathan’s funeral.

Death reminds me that each moment with loved ones is precious. I wanted my kids to grow up with their smart, sweet uncle guiding them. But we had some wonderful times together and we will never forget him. Jonathan, who suffered mental illness that kept him from venturing out on his own, had not a jealous bone in his body. He was happy to see us happy and had made peace with his lot. I know he will be looking down at us smiling.

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