Death of the young can be confusing – by Curt Swarm

Sometimes death confuses me. It’s usually with the death of a younger person, a person who has not had the privilege of living to a “ripe old age.” Somehow, for me anyway, it doesn’t seem right that disease can come along and prematurely wipe out a life.
My friend Ray Tedrow recently passed away. I’ve written about Ray Ray before. He was my supervisor years ago at a machine shop. He was smart, hard working, and had cystic fibrosis. I didn’t even know what cystic fibrosis was. Ray told me in an off hand way, like it was-what-it-was, that there was nothing he could do about it, so he would just go ahead and set this machine up, that was what was important. That there was no cure for cystic fibrosis, that it was 100% fatal was something he couldn’t control so why worry about it? Live for the moment. That seemed to be Ray Ray’s philosophy. He was younger than me. He was a fighter and he was going to whip the disease. I was impressed by his attitude.
Ray had a sister, Shirley, who also had the cystic fibrosis. I knew Ray and Shirley’s father well. When Shirley died it was a bummer. Ray and his father and family seemed to take it in stride.
It wasn’t long before Ray had to quit work and take disability. But he enjoyed life. He had a Harley motorcycle, and liked to deer hunt, and race stock cars. He had a 2000 Dodge RT and participated, with his dad and family, in small tractor pulls.
When he had a double-lung transplant at the University of Iowa Hospital, I thought he would go on to live a rich, full life. To get a new set of lungs was a miracle. Characteristic of Ray, he was able to meet with the donor’s family to express his gratitude for the gift of life. What the new lungs did was extend Ray’s life for a few more years.
He spent the last couple of years living in Florida with his life mate. They both belonged to a Christian motorcycle group. When Ray passed away, members of the group rode from Florida to Iowa to attend the funeral.
I like to remember Ray tapping his work-booted toe to ear-splitting music by Brewer & Shipley as he set up a lathe to run production. “Awaitin’ for the train that goes home sweet Mary, Hopin’ that the train is on time.”
Ray wasn’t supposed to live past his teens. He lived to be 48. But it still doesn’t seem right that Ray Ray is gone.
Casey was another friend, also younger than me. We partied hardy together, back in the day. He played third base on our softball team, and could wing it to first base like no one else. Mighty Casey at the bat.
That bladder cancer could come along and take down a guy like Casey just doesn’t seem right. When Ginnie and I went out to see him in Colorado in his final days, he thought we had come out to party, and felt bad that he couldn’t show us a good time. That we had come just to see him didn’t seem to sink in.
Mighty Casey struck out.
Ginnie’s mother recently passed away. She was just a few days short of ninety, and died fast with no extended suffering. That’s the way it should be—live a long full life, raise a family, while faith grows stronger. Ginnie and her family grieve, but accept.
That’s a proper death.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.

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