I despise popular sayings about life and death. Of the sayings I hate most, “Live each day as if it is your last” pretty much takes the cake. Look, if I knew that I would die tomorrow, today would not be a purposeful or productive day; my last 24 hours would be spent in desperate panic.
But the underlying truth that today might actually be your last day is inescapable. People die every day, and sometimes without any warning. More and more often do we hear about people just dropping: alive one minute, and then dead the next.
This past November I lost my 34-year-old cousin Brandon Roe—a blood clot in the lung took his life. He was standing in line at Ontario Services, waiting to register for Employment Insurance, and then all at once discovered that he couldn’t catch his breath; he was dead only hours later.
And then this Monday I arrived at Galt Glass where I work to find out that someone I’d worked side-by-side with for the past ten years, someone I’d gone to breakfast with before our Saturday shifts, and someone who’d taught me everything I know about the glass industry had died suddenly on the weekend.
We still don’t know what happened. He and his long-time girlfriend had been about to take a nap. He’d made a gurgling sound. His arm jerked. And then he collapsed into his girlfriend’s arms, and was dead two minutes later (though he was not pronounced dead until he reached the hospital).
His name was Helm Ringl, and he was a curiosity. I mean that in an endearing and yet still somewhat removed sort of way. He was always kind and giving, always willing to help no matter the cost to himself. And yet he kept everyone at a distance. No one knew his real address, phone number, or even his age. He had a business degree and a diploma in herbology, and yet worked in the trades as a glass cutter, and never less than 50 hours a week.
A conspiracy theorist through and through, Helm was persistent (sometimes exhaustively so) in educating those not in the know. Be it about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or the state of Israel, or even the Holocaust, he always had something to share. We’re all in for a rude awakening, he would say.
In a way, I suppose that’s so. We all walk the long road thinking it will never end. But it does, and it ends in the same spot for every one of us, just some of us get there sooner than others. It’s a destination each of us reaches on our own, though, and that scares me.
Because it scares me, I try to convince myself that things will be different for me and those I love. But like Helm always said, we’re in for a rude awakening.
Helm Ringl was my co-worker, my teacher, and—as much as he would allow it—he was also my friend.
*Click here to watch the vlog I filmed about his passing. The following is his obituary, which appeared in the Guelph Mercury:
RINGL, Helm In his 61st year, passed away suddenly on Saturday, March 3, 2012 at the Guelph General Hospital. Son of Berta Zajac, stepbrother of Terry, Helm was the beloved soulmate of Olivia Shuel for over 19 years and the much loved son-in-law of Helena and the late Reginald Shuel. Missed deeply by sisters-in-law Jane (Bob) and Deirdre (Peter) and by his great friend and co-conspirator Sid. Helm had an entrepreneurial background and was especially passionate about alternative medicine. In addition to much practical knowledge, he had a diploma in Herbology. Friends will remember Helm discussing politics, social justice and legal activism at the Athletic Club, the market and in his favourite restaurants. He had a profound interest in North American Native spirituality and generously dedicated countless hours to help others. Commemorative Services will be held at St. George’s Anglican Church (99 Woolwich St.) on Thursday, March 8th at 1:00 p.m. Forever loved. Goodnight, sweet prince.