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My thoughts on death; also, RIP Scott Campbell

A man I knew died yesterday. I can’t say that I liked him very much, or even that I knew him at all. Scott Campbell was a biology teacher at my high school and I never gave him much thought or consideration over the years since I graduated. It wasn’t that I harbored any ill will. I just didn’t even think of him.

A recent connection through Facebook brought me up to speed with his life. While he was alone in most of his photos, he was always smiling, that awkward, dorky smile that I remember. He had moved to Denver where he taught and lived his life as a single man. He traveled the world. He loved his sister, Donna. And he had a brain tumor.

On July 19th, he underwent brain surgery. I’ve taken the liberty of copying and pasting some of his Facebook wall posts verbatim because I think they demonstrate his optimism in the face of abject despair.

July 24: “covld use a visitor”
July 30: “3-5 weeks in rehab”
August 2: “i need visits”
August 3: “Rehab isway hard”
August 5: “Wishiknew when iwil be able to go home”
August 7: “Has no ijdea whereimgoing after i leaverehaab”
August 15: “Recovery is tough enouggW/o the Addedfinancial stress”
August 20: “Looks like im goinginto a a skilled nursing facility next wk”
August 23: “100dgree fever!”
September 9: “Stillinthe hnoshosbut hopetogetOusoon”
September 10: “STANDUPTOCBNCER!”
September 14: “KMovingtoa newnursing/rehabhome”

On November 4th, his sister posted under his account: “I am reading all your letters to him . . . He can no longer speak but acknowledges our presence . . .”

And on Sunday, he died. I haven’t been able to get his death out of my head all day. Our paths barely crossed, our interactions 20 years ago were minor at best, and his departure from this world will have no direct or indirect effect on anything that happens for the rest of my life, but his passing fills me with no small measure of sadness.

The reason, I think, that Scott’s death has affected me so much is because it seemed so goddamn lonely. This is supposition and extrapolation on my part, of course, but in this giant theater of the Internet, our perceptions fuel our motivations, our fears, and our dreams. I won’t make apologies for imagining a world of stark loneliness, no partner with whom he shared his life, no progeny on whom he doted, and only a sister, sparing him moments of her existing life. I envision a man, wasting away in a bed, knowing that his time may be limited, bathed in the sickly glow of a laptop monitor as his support system is represented by ones and zeroes, completely and utterly alone.

I wish I could be positive and hopeful and just say that Scott, you will be mourned by those who love you, you will be missed by those whose lives you touched, and you will be remembered by those who knew you. I wish that I could just simply hope that your last moments were filled with love and happiness and warmth, but the dark part of my soul insists that they weren’t. It whispers to me that your last moments were filled with unyielding loneliness. And that terrifies me. For you. For everyone. For myself.

48 thoughts on “My thoughts on death; also, RIP Scott Campbell”

  1. Fuck, this one hit me like a brick. This reminds me so much of my dad and even though we were all with him when he died, I hadn’t had a relationship with him for years. I just. Fuck.
    RIP Scott Campbell.

  2. the post made me cry uncontrollably, I would like to blame hormones but I don’t think I can. I got the same impression as you after reading the posts and that overwhelming feeling of not only loneliness but also lack of hope hit me hard. May he rest in peace and may his story mean something to all of us.

  3. In the end, we’re all food for worms anyway.

    No matter what you believe death holds for you, I like the way Walt Whitman views Death in “Song of Myself”:

    “Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
    I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know

    I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and
    am not contain’d between my hat and boots,
    And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,
    The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

    I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
    I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and
    fathomless as myself,
    (They do not know how immortal, but I know.)”

  4. That is so sad. Thinking about death is never easy and even if we don’t know a person well, when we hear about their passing, sometimes it can really affect us. To die almost alone, well, that is dreadful. The only bright side, I guess, is the fact that he, or others like him, won’t have many people truly mourning his loss. That sounds awful and I hope you sort of understand what I’m saying.
    Death (I think) doesn’t scare me all that much, but the reason I dread it is thinking about my loved ones who will have to carry on without me. Well, at least my kids won’t miss my cooking…
    Six friends from my high school graduating class have died. Two from cancer, one in a tobogganing accident, two car accidents, and one suicide. I think about these people all the time.
    Gah. I’m sorry. 🙁
    Also, sorry for this never-ending comment.

  5. Your posts frequently make water leak from my eyes, but usually because I’m laughing so much (I love the sex toys reviews, especially Patricia!). But this one? Oh wow. Has made water leak from my eyes because it hurts so much… Living the rest of my life (and then dying) alone is something that makes me so scared I could puke. Since separating from my partner of 14 years in May, I’ve been living with our two daughters (aged 8 and 6), but things aren’t going well, I’m not coping at all and I feel (despite the presence of said little girls) hopelessly alone. My “closest” friends live in a different country, my “nearest” friends all lead busy, busy lives. I seem to do nothing but work, household chores and childcare. No social life, no interests, no hope. So yeah, I’m crying right now, and I’m mourning this man whose existence was unknown to me till about 10 minutes ago, and I’m praying to that God I can’t believe in to help me not spend the rest of my life alone.
    RIP Scott Campbell
    And Bravo to you, Adam, for such a powerful and touching post…

  6. This post was sad and touching. We are ultimately all alone, I think, there are things in life that even if someone is there, we have to do them alone.

    Kirsty, I’m sorry you’re struggling and that you feel so alone. I’m sure there are other mothers and women in your area who feel the same; just takes some effort to find them. Volunteer work, school stuff, etc…find something you’d like to do, and do it.

  7. Having recently spent three years watching as the person I loved most in all the world died slowly — including holding her hand as she exhaled her final breath — I’ve thought a lot about what the experience of death would be like if there was no loved one nearby to share it.

    I’ve decided that I’d rather not find out.

    Thanks for a moving post, Adam.

  8. Oddly enough, I had a similar experience this week.
    My parish priest died on Monday.
    I barely knew him. I am at church most of the Sundays the kids are with me, but I am just one of the hundreds of faces he sees every week. My 6YO saw him at her Catholic School almost daily. She was one of hundreds of kids who admired and respected him.
    From my limited experience with him and by all accounts of those who knew him well, he was a good man who worked hard and loved his parishioners and the school.
    He came to us after a very tumultuous time. He restored order and peace.
    And in the end, he died alone.
    Because of his priestly commitment, he turned his back on the attachments that would allegedly (according to Vatican rules) distract him from his duty. The church was his bride, we were all his children.
    But in the end, he died alone.
    And, while he knew this fate when he took his vows and accepted it with grace and humility, I don’t think it’s fair.
    That said, I admire the bravery in his choice for celibate life. Many of those, like your biology teacher, died alone because that’s the hand that life dealt him. To make that choice is an incredible sacrifice.

    I will remember my priest tonight and on every Sunday and thank him and the other men and women who chose celibacy over companionship because they felt the calling was worth more than the emotional pain of loneliness. I will also hope for a day when the choice to serve the parish and heed the callings of intimate companionship can co-exist.

    Thanks Adam. And, you’ll never really be alone…unless you choose to be.

  9. Dying alone is a terrible thought. Yet it’s something that is completely individual and we must ultimately do it on our own, even if we’re surrounded by people we love.

    The moment we leave this world is the most unknown, unexplained and sometimes feared moment we will ever face. So of course we feel sad when someone dies lonely. It only seems fair and proper that we let people feel their lives were cherised before they cross over into the unknown I guess. Maybe we wouldn’t feel that way if we really knew that the “other side” was full of waiting virgins and sparkly joy and eternal un-loneliness?

    My mother is dying and I have felt oddly blessed to have a prediction of the number of months I have left with her. We’re focusing on the stuff that’s important and she’s doing whatever she wants. We’re making the most of the tine that is left. My mom won’t die lonely. She will die happy and loved. I will make sure of it. I will also keep faith that she will pass into fluffy clouds and peace. Frankly, I worry more for how Her death will affect m own loneliness rather than her own.

  10. Fortunately those that I know who have passed have all been surrounded by those who loved them. Their funerals filled will friends and acquaintances. I could not imagine being alone. Hopefully those messages on his Facebook wall were only his perception of what was really going on and the tumor had distorted his reality.

    It’s sad to think of how many other people might feel that they are alone in this world. No one should be alone when they die. No one.

  11. Realistically, you’ll be alone, too. At least you’re dealing with it in advance!

    If your blog ever had an “Adam is gone” note on it, I’d just assume you were faking it like Elvis and Andy Kaufman did.

  12. Do any of us every really have the crowd we deserve?? Probably not. And then there are those who have holidays made out of their funerals who really don’t deserve it. In the end, we have to decide for ourselves that our life was full and worthwhile. Living for the approval of others is futile. Live for yourself! I plan to die that way too!

  13. Clearly, this strikes a nerve with most everyone. The thought of living with loneliness and so few people at the end of my life is distressing. But, clearly, you are loved very much Adam. You have nothing to fear of this. The rest of us, on the other hand, will most certainly form a support group if you ever leave us.

  14. The most powerful posts about death are from ppl who don’t glorify or romanticize it. For most people…(as I expect it will be for me) it’s usually hard, it’s usually lonely and it usually is awful. Full stop. That’s the reality…for most.

    We see an awful lot of “event-like” tributes on the internet. Don’t get me wrong…they are great in that they surely provide some measure of support and comfort for those left behind. But most of humanity are not connected to one another in the ways that we read about on FB and twitter. A good portion of humanity are normal, lonely humans. Life happens….our lives have ebb and flow. At some points we’re surrounded by people….and at some points we’re not.

    I think we all hope that when we do die…we die on some kind of a “high” in our lives, with people around, in full momentum, providing us the support we need. But the reality is that for most of us…that won’t happen. It sucks. This post is a reminder that life (and death) isn’t always tied up in a pretty ribbon or celebrated with tribute web sites.

    I’m sorry you’re hurting…that sucks too.

  15. I hope he was not alone. You will not be alone, I can promise you that. I will be there, even if I no longer have a body. I will be there for you. And I’m sure I won’t be the only one.


  16. It’s where I tend to get morbid, too. Like, all that time you spent worrying about how you looked or what you wore and how much money you had and what kind of car you drove – all that bullshit, and then… did it matter?

  17. Death sucks. A lonely death sucks even more. Wish I could promise you, myself and every lonely person on our great earth a death with dignity and a friendly face as we slip off into whatever we believe comes next.

  18. This really hit home hard for me. I had a teacher that died a few years ago that your post really reminded me of. I don’t really remember any of the specific details about that, but I did want to take this time to tell you how I was able to keep it together. Amway. It’s not just a company, it’s a family and it’s a way of life.

    Amway isn’t just about Health and Beauty products. As the largest direct selling company and manufacturer in the world, Amway offers thousands of products that you may not have know about.

    From scented reeds (item #84456300001), perfect empowered drinking water (item #744352), to attractive caskets including a fantastic one made by NUTRILITE (item #111184), Amway has just about anything you could look for.

    The products are not even the best part. When you shop with Amway, you’re part of a network… A family. If Scott Campbell was part of the Amway family he would have had over 280,000 friends by his side during his last moments. You don’t have to be in the same boat as Scott Campbell. If you could like to learn more about Amway please either email me or come to one of our upstart seminars. I promise it will be the best little decision you make in your life.

  19. As far as I know you don’t have a steady person in your life that you’re dating. I had this same fear when I was separated from my ex. But I didn’t let it sway what I would do with life.

    I know you’re not thinking of doing this, but please don’t compromise on a relationship just because you don’t want to be alone when you die.

    And you are the only person you have for life, so be happy with yourself. Be happy that you will have you in your dying days. That shows how much you love yourself. Gotta love yourself then the rest falls into place.

  20. This made me sad, and made me think of my Dad. He’s made some choices in his past that have led to loneliness now, and I sort of feel bad for him. At the same time, he made these choices. It’s hard for me to reconcile that, and let go of the guilt.

    Rest in peace, Scott Campbell.

  21. This has been my main death/dying fear for as long as I can remember. And even though I’ve surrounded myself with husband, children, family, and friends, I still wonder if I’ll be alone when IT happens.

    I’m sorry for Mr. Campbell, I’m sorry for anyone who dies alone, and I’m sorry that you, too share this fear, hon. Hugging you from afar.

  22. As someone who has chosen to be childless, and most likely will remain single, this put into words what I imagine my own death will be like. And it terrifies me. Thanks for sharing this and letting me know that I’m not entirely alone, at least not in my fear. That’s comforting in it’s in way.

    And then I read A Concerned Reader’s comment, and I was even more terrified.

  23. If I sit and think about it, all the big things I’ve done in life, I’ve done alone. I birthed my children alone for the most part. I graduated from high school and Navy bootcamp alone. I got the original job with DOC, and the new promotion with Doc alone. My Dad, who had dozens of people by his side during his last days, died at 3am alone. I personally think that even unconscious he didn’t want my Mom to see him go. I think a lot of the big things are always done sometime in the wee, dark hours when we are alone. Maybe it’s for a reason…

  24. I had a humanistic concern for him before he went to surgery. He was scared and many re/assured him that he was strong, was making the best decision, and would have friends and family to support him after the surgery. Indeed, he needed that support after it was complete and he received it from his friends and family. As anyone sitting in a hospital would, he wanted company and requested it. And as anyone going to an unknown place would, he expressed concern about making that transition. But I agree with his sister that he was not alone. People like myself checked in with him via facebook or commented on his posts and I’m sure his local students and friends visited him in person. A single person is not necessarily a lonely person and the fact that he reached out means he knew he would receive a response. It would be worse to reach out and receive no response. It is a shame he could not combat the disease and medicine did not ultimately help, but I did not mourn his death because he took the necessary steps to sustain his life and fought for it for as long as he could. I view his death more as a reminder to positively touch as many people’s lives as we can.

  25. Death is only sad for those of us left behind. As long as you’re ready to go (and admittedly believing there is an afterlife helps) leaving this earth shouldn’t be too scarey of a thing to go through. I know it’s depressing to think of dying alone, but that is only because our relationships on earth are so important. I believe that detaching from everything that’s important to us is important and the only way to die in peace and when you consider that, dying alone is probably easier than being surrounded by people you love.

    God I hope I’m right…..if not dying is going to suck. 🙁

  26. When my time comes I don’t know if I’ll want those I love there with me or not. If I was suffering I know it would help me, but I wouldn’t want them to suffer also. I’m not sure what comes after death, if any thing, but I hope the people I’ve loved in life will carry me in their hearts once I’m gone.

  27. A point of information. Scott Campbell did not die alone and he was at peace when he slipped away. As a matter of fact, he was visited by carloads of students as well as fellow teachers and friends in the last period of his life. There were celebrations of love and good thoughts by all. His students particularly shared their love for him, and we all were grateful for the overwhelming gift of his acceptance of all students and his love for teaching. He was a truly gifted teacher and he will be missed. There was a wonderful memorial service for Mr. Campbell. Students and adults honored him with stories, some sad, some happy. May all who read this recognize the gift to the world that Scott was and may you also know that he died in peace.

  28. This popped up again as I was l was looking for a news article on my brother. My original post was deleted. Do not comment on something you knew nothing about. My brother inspired thousands of people and continues to inspire in memories and thoughts of his courage. He was a writer, traveler, learner and educator. He was loved. Our parents aren’t with us so no we didn’t have much family. But Scott had so many friends and beloved students. His ramblings in FB were due to a botched brain surgery, his fourth to remove cancer. He was not alone. None of us are. We go back to the arms of our creator when we die.

  29. Like Scott’s sister Donna said, he was NOT alone and it is obvious to me this writer knew NOTHING about Scott. This was all a figment of his imagination in order to come up with a story. He spoke no reality or truth. Scott had so many friends, beloved students and family there for him throughout his many years of this darn disease. He attended his 20 and 25 year high school reunions with a lot of excitement and can be seen in so many photos with all his beloved classmates who kept in contact with him before and after the reunions. His name and memory lives on with a Scott Campbell scholarship fund that was set up by a classmate. Our 30 year reunion is this weekend and I can guarantee you no one has forgotten him and we will miss him at the reunions dearly.

    1. @Cathy Cassini, I stated above that I knew nothing and that it was complete supposition and my own imagination, based nothing in reality. This was a post reflecting on what my thoughts were after reading about Scott through Facebook, not what he was actually going through.

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