Mortal Enemy by James Altena

Mortal Enemy

James Altena on Looking Death in the Face of a Friend

When my dear friend Jan Coward died of cancer in October 2006, he was not conscious and went peacefully; my hand rested upon his arm as he drew his final breath. It was the first time I had seen someone die.

My father’s death (of colon cancer) had been quite sudden; he died within two days of entering the hospital for the last time, before I could even book a flight to see him. Since he was cremated, I never actually saw him dead. Although I detest the artificiality and tackiness of many “viewings,” I found that not being able to see in death a loved one known in life exacts a great psychological toll, for the death then never seems entirely real. Full closure is not always made; an unhealed wound may remain.

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James A. Altena is the associate editor of Fanfare magazine, a comprehensive bimonthly periodical for reviews of classical music recordings. He is a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

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