On Death and Dying

My life seems to have more death & tragedy than most. I suppose it should upset me more than it does, but I've come to accept it. It's made me who I am, which I suppose is as close to as well adjusted as could be hoped for. Of course, my life has plenty of life and happiness as well, and that's what I choose to focus on as much as possible. Of all those who have died there's one that still hits me harder than most for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me. Part of it might be my wedding.

When planning a wedding you have choices to make. Stuff like colors, food, who to invite and where they should sit. For me, who to invite was a rather easy task, I'm not much of a people person, so there were a limited number of people I wanted to invite. There was only a small number of people I had to give much thought. My primary motivation was to ask if they'd be happy to have been invited, or would they dread going, would they know anyone there, would they have fun. Jason Kempston was one of the people I had assumed would not really enjoy a wedding and reception full of people he didn't know. Not that he wasn't a people person, but he just seemed like someone who wouldn't fit in. Though as I write this, I realize a few other folks were the same way, and they got invites. So for whatever reason Jason didn't make the cut. I had just moved back to Buffalo and had been talking with him frequently, and we even got out for a ride or two that summer. Just before my wedding he had brought up the possibility of me working a few nights a week with him at a bike shop, something I was so looking forward to doing since I haven't worked in a shop for years, and better yet, I'd get to work with Jason and see other old familiar faces. I talked to him again just before thanksgiving and he said things were on for the big job (ok, so maybe minimum wage isn't big, but I wasn't doing it for the money) and he'd get back to me over the weekend.

The call never came, which I thought was odd, so I went by the shop to see if he was around, and luckily, it turns out, no one was around. Time flies and a couple weeks later I got a call later at night than is usual. My wife always says that a late night call means someone is dead, and for once, she was right. Just after thanksgiving Jay had been in a car accident and been severely injured. He hung on for a few days but his injuries were a too much and December 1, 2003 he passed away. The call came from a friend of mine who'd just happen to catch his obituary in the Orchard Park Bee by chance. I'd lost touch with most of the friends Jay and I had in common, so no one thought to call me. Later when I talked to a couple of them they all said they thought of me, but assumed someone else would call. No one else called, so I didn't get the bad news until a week after the wake and funeral. From what I hear it may have been for the best. He was an only child, and was quite close with his parents. None of his family did very well at the services, nor did his closest friends.

It seems like any time I read something about someone who's died young it's always the same story. They're always described as being full of life, nice, caring, all the usual stuff. No one ever has anything bad to say about them. So at the risk of sounding like a cliché, Jay was really one of the nicest people I've had the good fortune of knowing. He always had this odd crooked smile on his face, he was genuinely nice, he was a hard worker, honest, and a helluva mountain biker.

Jason was one person I really wish I had invited to my wedding, at the very least that may have lead to a call when he had his accident. His grave is a long drive from home, but I made the trip yesterday, just to say hi. It's a small rural graveyard and his grave was the only one that had foot prints in the snow. It was cold and dark and rainy, a perfect day for a visit to a grave.


It breaks my heart to think about his parents dealing with losing their only son. Now that I have my own kids, I can't even imagine what they are still going through even after 5 years.

Of Orchard Park, NY, December 1, 2003; beloved son of Dennis R. and June M. (Pokorny); loving grandson of Joyce M. and Felix J. Pokorny and Dolores (late Lester) Kempston; great-grandson of Marion Hatt and Mildred Portasica; also survived by many aunts, uncles and cousins. The family will receive friends Wednesday 7-9 PM and Thursday 2-4 and 7-9 PM at the F.E. BROWN SONS FUNERAL HOME, INC., E. Quaker St., Orchard Park. Services Friday 10:00 AM in the Orchard Park Presbyterian Church, 4369 South Buffalo St., Orchard Park. Friends invited. Flowers gratefully declined. Memorials made to Ranger Jason Kempston Memorial Fund, c/o Knox Farm State Park, 437 Buffalo Rd., East Aurora, NY 14052 or to Jamison Road Fire Department, Jamison Rd., Elma, NY 14059 or to Marilla Fire Co., 1950 West Ave., Marilla, NY 14102.
Published in the Buffalo News on 12/3/2003

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Is that Lancaster Rural cemetery? That is where my brother is buried.

I'm not Presbyterian, but I would guess that they wish for a happy death for their son, and that his time here was of benefit to others. I know in my family we remember the day that someone died, or more correctly the day they entered eternal life, as a bittersweet day. We certainly feel a sense of loss, but we also know that they have moved on to their eternal reward as it were although that smacks of bible thumping hokum. I really do feel that way.

Losing a child is something you never truly come to grips with. Even today when asked, my mom says I have 3 children, one died a few years ago. Their children are always on their mind, even the child who has died. We can all easily understand and cope with losing parents, or other older relatives, even brothers and sisters, but the loss of a child is just so unnatural - kids are supposed to outlive their parents. I can only imagine how difficult it must be.

I know my parents enjoy talking about my brother, and the things we did together. I know they enjoy hearing from my brother's friends and his wife, although she remarried five or six years after my brother's death is still part of the family (and she still keeps a few pictures of John around the house with her husband's OK - he is now part of our extended family too).

Let the Kempston family know that you were thinking of Jay. Let them know that you remember the happy times you had together and how he was a friend. There may be a tear or two, but the fond remembrances will last far longer than the sad moment.

Just as a wedding is a new beginning, a death is a new beginning too. It is a new beginning for those left behind as we struggle to deal with the everyday things that never stop coming at us whilst we try to manage our grief at losing someone about whom we cared. It is also a new beginning, a rebirth as it were into the indescribable ecstasy of everlasting life with God. Something to which we all hope we are invited, but few hope it is next week.

Let the Kempstons know Jay was a good friend, those are the memories they will cherish forever.

It's out East Aurora way, West Falls I think is the town. The name escapes me right now for some odd reason. You're right, I should contact his folks, thanks. Just remembered, Griffith Mills. It's a town that never quite caught on, so it has a few houses and a church.

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