Death, Obviously

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you probably noticed the recurring theme of finding or returning home. Typically, I describe an event, dream, or thought about being lost and trying to find my way home again, which is often agonizing. Then I relate it to Homer or Virgil and wrap things up with a witty observation. Well, as witty as I can be. But, as my father once told me reassuringly, a nitwit is still a wit.

Not so this time. Why? Because I am beginning to think the search for home is a farce or, if not a farce, a narcissistic delusion. Think about it. What’s the one condition that must exist in order for there to be a search for home? You have to lose it. You don’t search for something you already have. But, to paraphrase a certain farm girl in ruby slippers, if you can’t find home, it may be because you never lost it in the first place.

So, many of us search for something we already have like the absent-minded academic who has to be told that his reading glasses are on his head. The search for home can take many forms. Some are positive and involve things like work, family, or self improvement. The latter is a multi-billion dollar industry including everything from books and exercise to surgery and kelp. Some are negative and cause people to implode. We all know the list.

As they say about greatness, the search for home also can be thrust upon us like the struggle for democracy taking place in Hong Kong right now. If we are anything at all, we are creatures of history. It is in the air that we breathe. The hidden enemy is restlessness, which obstructs our line of sight so that we end up not seeing home even when standing in the middle of the kitchen. It tricks us into leaving the house, slamming the front door and swearing that we will never look back. Except sometimes we do look back.

I remember years ago going for a walk in the dark after dinner and looking back into the house. I could see my wife at the kitchen sink and my children playing in the family room. That was home and I knew it. It has taken me decades to get it back. Even now, I stand in the street and look at the latest version of that scene: daughter at the sink, grandchildren in the family room. This is family history.

Thankfully, it is never too late to come to your senses, to recognize your place in the world and settle into it without resentment or remorse. Restlessness fades with age and small successes. You don’t need a major client, award, or prize to accept who you are with all your fears and foibles. Does not God come to us as a “still, small voice” rather than an earthquake (1 Kings 19:12)?

In a practical sense, this is about not taking things or people for granted, being grateful for the life you have rather than the one you want, and acting as a positive force in the world rather than an egotistical or destructive one. Notice I didn’t say perfect. We are all human, and I have learned through years of teaching that people fear two things: imperfection and failure, both of which are as inevitable as taxes.

What lies at the heart of these fears? Death, obviously. Why bring it up now? I can’t say for certain except that October begins the long period of dying and death. There is a change in the air. You can smell it. You can feel it. It rises up from the earth like steam in a swamp.

If death approaches in any of its forms, the way to prepare for it is not to run off on some misguided search but to stay home and stand your ground. It is to remain loyal to the people and things that have been there all along. After all, you only get so many chances. Only so many. Where then, death, is thy sting (1 Cor 15:55)?

Feature image by Gabriel on Unsplash. Middle by Jonah Pettrich on Unsplash. Bottom by Kelly Sikkema. Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo and Laura Fedora) as well as the autobiographical Nine Lives here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


  1. Still thinking about your post, Death Obviously, these days… The section of the post where you write “Thankfully, it is never too late to come to your senses…to recognize your place in the world, and to settle into it without resentment and remorse.” Oh, Robert, I’m in my sixties, and feeling all that was left undone and the many mistakes, less constructive roads taken. I have spent time with many persons as they were preparing to die, and those who were dying, as a pastoral hospice chaplain. Most of the time, I would be sent to homes of persons whose families lived far away or those without anyone. I am coming to the end of the person , I believe, will be the final person I will be able to care for in this way. I choose to have faith in your words, Robert, because your words ring true. I hope that it is never too late, not to wipe away some of the life roads I travelled, but to walk moment to moment roads.

    1. Poetic and touching, Susan. I think if we could see life through the eyes of death we would all be much happier…and kinder to each other, including ourselves. Faith, of course, is the way to carry on. We just have to step out of the way. Remember that expression, lead, follow, or get out of the way? Well, I think it’s best to get out of the way…

  2. “If death approaches, in any of its forms…stay at home, stand your ground, remain loyal to the people who have been there all along…”
    Yes, Robert, so important and so difficult. We lost Our Nathan Monday. Marine, Special Forces, Deployed in Asia and Afghanistan constantly in the past ten years. Laura’s grandson…last seen, September 30 on Laura’s 91st birthday, here, on furlough… I received news as Laura is in growing dementia and lessening grasp of life and will for life. How to tell her, if I should… On furlough, Nathan at intersection, his car, was hit by public bus, died instantly. Only so many chances…Thank you, Robert.

    1. I can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear this. Such a tragic and senseless death. The irony is overwhelming. I can only offer my prayers for you, Laura, and the family. God bless you.

  3. Pssst. speakeay….alight? Sodight.. M ugsy senz me! In trouble? The intsy wintsy spider goes up the water spout…Dream Dream enuf and what happens..Selfie fulfilling Profesy.

  4. So powerful, Robert; every single word. Only so many chances…
    Robert, I had a life shattering event this week. Although what has occurred relates to your post, I do not want to take from your beautiful post so it will be 3 sentences.
    I had been searching for a significant person, beloved since childhood and throughout my life. This person, in Chicago, tried to contact me through my parents in a far-away state, then disappeared. I did everything I could do to search for this person as I felt he was in trouble. I searched for years and years and had recurring vivid dreams which was extremely unusual for me. Friday, I received a phone call that informed me of what had happened… Only so many chances…

    1. Robert, may I write to you through your g-mail address? I will not write this post soon, but I feel that you would understand it. It will not be a long writing. Susan

        1. Robert, I believe I sent my document incorrectly, with the wrong e-mail address and without a Subject. I have just sent my document to you, hopefully to the correct address:)

          Thank you,

  5. Very nice, Rob – and really fits in with my reflective mood today.
    However, as always, I’m reminded of a quote. In this case, from Robert Frost’s “The Death of a Hired Man”: “Home is the place that, when you go there, they have to take you in.”
    Of course, one should also do the taking…

      1. Yes, I’d have to agree that we are all more likely to get ‘taken in’ in other ways nowadays.

        Today I learned of the (expected) death of a former neighbor of 30+ years. I told a friend about this, and part of her response included this: The quote of the day in the Times on Saturday was from the Larkin
        poem “The Mower”:

        “The first day after a death, the new absence / Is always the same; we
        should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still

        1. The day after sharpens our senses, focuses the mind, and slows us the hell down…Somehow or other, it feels like we’ve lost weight. Maybe we have. I am sorry for your friend.

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