My wife and I went to the States this past week to attend the funeral of a niece. She was not someone with whom I have had much contact, but as the daughter of my brother-in-law, who was absolutely devastated, I felt we should go. She was about the age of my children (40’s), and she died in a tragic skiing accident. She was an avid and very good skier, skiing with the man she hoped to marry. She had stopped on the slope to clean her goggles, and was struck from behind by an out-of-control skier. She was wearing a helmet, but the impact was so great that it broke her neck and she died instantly. The out-of-control skier was not injured.
Many of us have had our parents, friends and relatives die, but I feel that the death of one’s child, particularly so un-necessarily, is the ultimate tragedy. Our children are the ones who are carrying into the future not only our genes, but our values, beliefs and aspirations. The death of a child not only leaves us in deep mourning, it constricts us: heart, mind and soul. And in this case, one cannot help but wonder what if. What if her goggles didn’t get fogged? What if she had been three feet to the right or the left? What if the other skiier hadn’t been so stupidly careless? What if her man had been standing directly behind her? (He was standing beside her.)
Death features prominently in the writing of many novelists. A death is often used to make a point, and often the point is that death is senseless, un-justifiable, un-reasonable. Often, in real life, that is exactly the case. And some writers go on to make the point that if death is senseless, there cannot be a loving God, because a loving God would never allow a senseless tragedy to happen to His people. But, in my opinion, this argument overlooks an important point: it may look and feel senseless to us. However, in an unknowable, cosmic context it may make sense. Why is it unknowable? Because if it were knowable, we would also know God, and if we really knew God we would not have free will. Why no free will? Can you imagine that anyone who really knew God, and therefore knew his plan for us, would actually do something that God didn’t like? In other words, I believe that God’s gift of free will carries a price: we can’t know everything.
Looking back on my writing, death and its messages have been present in all my novels. In Fishing in Foreign Seas, Jamie’s father develops incurable cancer. He is terrified, but, gradually, he comes to terms with his life and the blessings of his sons and wife. In Sin and Contrition, Gary, the ego-centric politician from a poor background, is approached by his long-absent father for money for a vital heart operation. There is an argument, the two fail to agree, and the father dies. Gary’s mother has dementia, but Gary leaves her care entirely to his sister. Gary later regrets his behaviour. Efraim’s Eye portrays the mind of a pathological terrorist: so committed to revenge that killing on the way to his grand attack is incidental. In The Iranian Scorpion, the Iranian gallows casts its shadow over Robert and his father. And in my fifth novel, Henry slides into deep depression after his exceptional son is killed in combat. But in each case, there is some redemption, as, I think, there usually is in life.