Encounters With the Dead Taught Me 4 Precious Lessons About Living

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TW: This article contains frank and detailed discussion of violent death.

It’s weird how the dead have taught me more than the living ever could. As a police officer, I saw more dead people than I can count, and everyone left a mark. It’s how I got PTSD.

But behind the grotesque horror and the tragic loss lay a person with a story and a message. Today I give voice to them.

. . .

1. Life is precious—a lesson from an overdose.

Before I became a police officer, I used to work in a liquor store. This particular customer was violent, thuggish, and a bully. We clashed several times as he tried to steal and throw his weight around. I never thought I’d see him again when I left the store.

How wrong I was. I found him dead in a public toilet.

The paramedics tried CPR, but it failed. He was 35 years old with a young child.

I didn’t come away from there sad — I hated him. But it weighed on me that someone can live in such a way that they end up dead in a filthy public toilet.

I was reminded of how precious life is. We owe ourselves more than ever to end up like that.

I show gratitude for all the things good in my life. The more gratitude I have, the more good things I notice.

I cherish my family and balance my life between work and play.

I never stop learning and improving myself because this is the purpose of life.

And when I have tough times, I think of my nemesis with a needle in his arm and sigh in relief that I’m far from there.

In the short time it took us to get him out of the toilet and into the ambulance, I returned and found another junkie already shooting up.

The conveyor belt of human misery slows for no one.

. . .

2. Life is impermanent and can change in a flash—a lesson from a traffic collision.

I was stuck in traffic. Eventually, I heard over the radio what had happened up ahead.

A motorcyclist had hit a car.

We used our blue lights to get to the scene and found him lying in the road — far away from his destroyed motorcycle.

He was agitated, as people with head injuries often are, and started fighting us to get up.

We couldn’t let him move in case he paralyzed himself, and I prayed I wouldn’t have to fight with him to keep him down.

I reassured him and held his hand for comfort.

He started calming down, and I breathed a sigh of relief until I noticed an ominous sign.

The back of his head was turning dark, and he was losing consciousness while this was happening.

The paramedics came, but he died in the ambulance.

The fragility of life often shakes me to the core, even now. Here was a guy going about his typical day when BANG, it’s all over. It made me think about my loved ones and how they could be snuffed out in minutes.

So when people say to make the most of every moment and live life for the present, this is what they mean.

This is your real-life example to prove the cliche.

Accept death and make peace with things coming to an end. Change affects us all.

. . .

3. Prioritizing what matters — a lesson from a hanging.

A young man hadn’t been seen for two weeks, and his neighbors in the bedsit smelled a foul odor.

I knew we would find him dead, but I didn’t know exactly what awaited me.

My colleague kicked down the door, but there was still an obstruction. Looking through a gap, I could see a sofa had been pushed against the door, so I had to force it back.

I stepped into the room and bumped into him.

A 21-year-old man was hanging by the front door. He was decomposing, and I had gone face-first into what was left of his legs.

“Fuck me. He hung himself,” I shouted, and we cleared the bedsit of other people.

The smell was atrocious, and there were so many flies that the dead ones coated most surfaces.

I became aware of the horrific absurdity of what I was witnessing. For some reason, he had tied used underwear to a cord from the ceiling.

I had to seize the noose around his neck for evidence, but his skin had melted over it. So I had to peel it off and take it back to the station with part of his neck still attached.

I had to search for him, which meant shifting through the sludge that used to be a 21-year-old young man.

And in all that death and horror, I found a book open on the page of the most inspiring poem — “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

The lesson here is the priority of relationships over everything else. This poor young man had no one that cared about him — that’s how he remained swinging from his dressing gown cord for two weeks without being discovered.

The fact that he killed himself highlighted how alone he felt.

I needed to reevaluate my priorities. I never want anyone I love to feel that alone and I pray I never reach that stage myself.

I also learned I could function under the most extreme of circumstances. I’ve described what I saw, but unless you were there, you don’t know the smell, the sound of the flies, what it’s like to touch a decomposing body or get melted skin on your arms.

In the words of Rudyard: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, your’s is the earth and everything that’s in it.”

. . .

4. Gratitude — The final lesson from my dad.

I thought when I left the police, I had seen my last tragedy. Little did I know tragedy would follow me to my doorstep.

I received a call one night from my mom, sobbing and telling me that my dad had died.

She’d found him slumped at his computer doing his favorite thing — writing.

Paramedics arrived in minutes, but he was too far gone.

I rushed round and, as much as my mom tried to hide the scene from me, I saw him dead on the floor.

Unlike my other experiences, there was no gore. He had been ill for a while, so it wasn’t totally unexpected. But it was one of the worst days of my life.

The worst part was when the funeral directors came to bag him up and take him away. I was waiting in the bedroom, looking after our small distressed dog and keeping out of the way.

The last thing I ever experienced from my dad was the sound of the body bag brushing against the wall outside the bedroom.

That “whoosh” sound signified the end of an era. At that point, I had never known life without my dad—all the love, games, and lessons.

The Christmases where he played games with me all day.

The vacations where we walked for hours, and I would laugh at his inability to tolerate paddling in cold water.

The lessons he taught me — even when we used to bicker.

All gone — replaced by the “whoosh” of a body bag.

The lesson here is gratitude. It’s been three and a half years since my dad died, and most of that has been agony. But I never lost sight of appreciating having him for as long as I did.

In the police, I met a lot of scumbag fathers. Mine was one of the best. My heart may weep without him, but I’m grateful he was my dad.

. . .

Final thoughts.

Even in the most desperate circumstances, we can find light and hope. I have PTSD from the horror of what I experienced — and I haven’t included those cases for obvious reasons.

Yet these people have enhanced my understanding of life. They teach us to be grateful and humble and never forget what matters.

The dead can’t talk, but it’s wrong to say they have nothing to offer.

Make the most of your loved ones and your life today. You never know when it will change.

This post was previously published on Publishous.


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The post Encounters With the Dead Taught Me 4 Precious Lessons About Living appeared first on The Good Men Project.

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