About Austin:

Former IT guy turned spec-fic writer and librarian, Austin Gragg lives in Independence, Missouri.

When he isn't writing, reading, or teaching digital literacy classes, he can be found playing Dungeons & Dragons with his partner, friends, and a pride of small domestic lions.

An essay on death

An essay on death

This short narrative essay was an assignment I wrote for a class not too long ago. Can you tell I was in a muck?

I promise the next blog post will be lighter in tone. Maybe even happy. But writing this felt important. Writing this felt therapeutic. Writing this felt, real. Take it for what it is: me spilling me brain onto a page, because I can't stand to write anything that isn't true, even if it's just for school.


Most hospitals reek of an unnatural cleanliness. Lone bacteria floating through the air might find themselves a wanderer in a ghost town, knowing they'll soon perish under the beating sun of air purification. But other hospitals—and one might argue they deserve their own category—are different. Unlike your standard run-of-the-mill hospital with uncomfortable chairs and stern-faced six-figure salaries walking down the hall to deliver the bad news, some hospitals are... nice. Maybe even more than nice—relaxing. I was walking down the hall in one of those hospitals, a nice specialized place dedicated to treating a disease that seems to have become a more common a cause of death than asphyxiation. Cancer.

I'd left Mom and my brother, in the room with Dad. Dad hadn't been talking since I got out there. Oklahoma's a long drive and making my way down the hallway I could feel the coffee finally starting to percolate with my brain cells—it was the only thing carrying me down that hall after such a long drive. The call to, come down now, I don’t think he has much time, is probably the greatest fire to ever be set under my ass. I'd left the room to get coffee and tell my other two brothers to eat some food. We all needed to be told to eat these days. It just didn't come naturally anymore. So, relaxed and heading back it was the Beatles song, "Eleanor Rigby" that was stuck in my head—and it made no sense because my lonely drive from Missouri had been filled to the brim with the guttural sounds of Blind Guardian and other power metal bands. But there it was... Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear...  All the lonely people, where do they all come from? There it was as I rounded the corner to see the face of my mother, shredded by grief, but just maybe, finally seeing a little peace, a little rest, as she said to me through sobs, "He's gone."

My brother has special needs. He understood, but he had few tears in the moment. And why would anyone with such innocence? For Christ’s sake, the man's in a better place now, why are we crying? I mean, if we all really believed in that better place, that Heaven above with the capital H and the capital G, God, and his son, whose letters appear only in red in The Good Book, so they'll bleed into your eyes while you pray—if we really believed, would we cry? It's doubt that makes us cry, and it's doubt that made me cry. You can argue all you want, "Oh, it's the pain of loss," but I promise, dig deep—death inspires doubt. Tears for death are rooted in doubt. Dig deep. But, you can only know that if you're standing right there when they've gone. It’s one thing to get the worst news in the world, and another to live it.

So, my mind latched on to doubt.

Allow me to shred the fourth wall as grief shreds the faces of mothers. Allow me to do so for two reasons: one, being I switched tabs to check the word count for this assignment—thank God five hundred words is the minimum—as you can tell I tend to run a bit long, and two, for levity, because it's needed when telling a story like this. When the assignment said, "your response to a piece of news that evoked a strong emotional response..." I simply couldn't settle for the time the McDonald's ice cream machine was broken—BUT DAMN THEM FOR IT ANYWAY. No, I dragged you down into the mucky muck of the dark and dreary, because to write about something I'm not passionate about would be a betrayal of your time and mine.

But back to grief. Back to doubt. It was my first reaction to sit there in defeat with my mother and my brother and cry. I said goodbye to a man who wasn't there anymore, kissed his head as he had mine many, many times, and hoped that he could feel it—on the other side, if there was one.

The hospital staff took him away, and my grief and anger took me down the stairs and out the door and into the parking lot where I sat in my car where I could scream. Where I could scream and cry and crack the dashboard with a fist and curse at a God, who, because of my own tears, I doubted existed. It's those hours I can recall with stark and everlasting clarity. I’m sure those memories will be so clear until my own last day.

I hope there's a child of mine, who would love me enough to curse God, there at my side when I go. But I hope more than anything, I won't give her or him a reason to curse an empty sky.

Music flipped my day

Music flipped my day

A Difference in Honesty -- a few things on mental health

A Difference in Honesty -- a few things on mental health