The Great Beyond

//The Great Beyond

The Great Beyond

It was an ordinary Monday night. Although I suppose, not really. More people were probably watching ESPN football that Monday night for a couple of reasons: 1) unlike weekend football, it’s the only game in town and 2) it’s late in the season when teams are vying madly for playoff spots.

Consequently, an estimated 23 million sets of eyes witnessed Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin’s shocking collapse in real time. He makes a routine tackle, rises, seems to adjust his helmet, then falls flat onto his back. It takes like two seconds. (I read somewhere once, probably in Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now, that “now” is roughly defined as three seconds. So, less than now.)

My set of eyes were alternately on purple and white granny squares – I was making a balaclava for one of my granddaughters – and the World Juniors’ Canada vs Slovakia quarter final. We were outshooting them like crazy; their goalie blocked the net like a friggin athletic titanium pretzel. Thankfully, Canadian phenom Connor Bedard deked him out in OT for the 4-3 win and we went on to win gold against Czechia. (This name was approved in 2016, but until watching the World Juniors this year, I still thought we still called it Czech Republic.)

After the game, the sportscasters on TSN mentioned the seriousness of the Damar Hamlin incident, that he’d gone into cardiac arrest, so I went on Twitter and saw the footage. I also saw many tweets about vaccines being to blame. And a few by parents saying this is exactly why they don’t let their kids play football.

We humans want reasons, don’t we? BLANK happened because of BLANK. We feel an overwhelming need to know why. It’s in our nature. I recently spent several hours with my three grandkids, ages 10, 9 and 6, and trust me. They never stop asking why.

While curiosity is a great trait, leading to incredible human achievement, there is also something to be said for accepting the fact that we’re just never gonna know it all.

“As a Buddhist practice,” says, “not-knowing leads to more than an intimacy and open mind. It can be used as a sword to cut through all the ways that the mind clings. If we can wield this sword until the mind lets go of itself and finally knows ultimate freedom, then not-knowing has served its ultimate purpose.”

It’s true that football is hard on the body. The CBC Front Burner podcast had Washington Post sports columnist Jerry Brewer on and he pointed out that football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. While changes in rules and equipment have helped guard against serious injuries like concussions, they’re still prevalent.

Personally, I find it amusing that a perceived increase in sudden unexplained deaths is due to Covid vaccines. Perhaps there was a time I might have even bought into it, but once you’ve been introduced to the harsh reality of sudden unexplained death? Well, suddenly it’s not so rare anymore and you hear about it all the time.

Almost two decades ago, well before Covid, it was an ordinary Monday night. Although, not really. On Monday night football, Green Bay Packers defeated St. Louis Rams 45-17. My husband Hugh wasn’t watching because he was ordering dinner at a steak house in Edmonton with business colleagues. He liked Green Bay, bet on them to win, but he died that night so the payout went to his son.

I watched Hamlin go down and my first thought was: OMG! This is how it happened! This is how Hugh died. He was ok, sipping beer, joking, ordering food, then two seconds later? He was down. 

Hugh did not get hit in the chest. No. So, it was not this commotio cordis (sudden arrhythmia caused by a low/mild chest wall impact) that has been mentioned as a possibility in Hamlin’s case. I have searched the web, high and low, for years trying to find a cause. Asking why, over and over. The best I’ve come up with is Brugada syndrome, “a rare but serious condition that affects the way electrical signals pass through the heart”.

Different cause, but same result: cardiac arrest. Abnormal heart rhythm. Boom. It’s so swift – less than now! – I credit witnesses to such events with keeping their heads on straight and taking action. In Hugh’s case, a first responder jumped on his chest with compressions and a nearby AED.

In Hamlin’s case, an unidentified man says on a recording, “I don’t like how he went down.” Says, “Many people are praising the medical personnel who treated him in the moments after he collapsed.” It seems their quick response, which kept blood flowing throughout Hamlin’s body, including the brain and lungs, has worked.

Reports are that he is “neurologically intact”. It would seem so, because his first question upon waking – in writing because at that time he had a breathing tube in – was, “Did we win?” His doctor responded, “Yes, Damar, you won. You’ve won the game of life.”

(It occurs to me, Hugh’s first question, had he returned from the great beyond, might have been, “Did Green Bay win?” Or, maybe, “Who ate my steak?”)

And the next day, via FaceTime after the breathing tube was removed, Hamlin told his team, “Love you boys.” They stood, clapped. Wow. Amazing.

If there was ever a good advertisement for knowing CPR? This is it.

But these stories – Hamlin’s, and Hugh’s as well – call to mind the Latin phrase “memento mori”. “Remember that you must die.” There seems no finer line between life and death than cardiac arrest. Two seconds.

One of my daughters gifted each of our family members – to bind us and remind us of the fleeting nature of life – with a beautiful gold pendant this Christmas. “Memento mori” is on the front, along with a skull, which may seem gruesome, but truly, we each have a skeletal system supporting us, yes? And on the back of the pendant? “You could leave life right now”. 

Better to spend your precious time living as opposed to pointing the finger and/or asking why over and over.



  1. Cathy Popovic January 10, 2023 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Wow 😮 I can’t believe Jetanne’s kids are that old now. Time sure does fly. Pierre also gave Jay the winnings from a bet he had with Hugh for the Dolphins and the Niners. They played on the Sunday. I always enjoy your stories, Rita, and the necklaces are beautiful.

    • Rita Hartley January 10, 2023 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      Time sure does fly! Thx always for reading & commenting – it means the world to me 🙏

  2. Sandy Reid January 14, 2023 at 9:40 am - Reply

    You say the words that ring so true for all of us Rita! Thank you for putting meaning to paper. ♥ Spending last night relaxing with Netflix, I felt wow that was a waste of my time. ( won’t mention the show because a lot are watching) I won’t be finishing that series! To a new day, today. To find your blog, Rinse and Repeat and then read The Great Beyond. I feel something, I feel for you and your family. I feel for me and my family. I feel alive and good! Thank you Rita! ♥

    • Rita Hartley January 14, 2023 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Thx so much for reading & commenting Sandy! It means so much to me. Netflix can be a time waster, yes, but there are interesting things to be learned there too, like what Bernie Madoff did and how 😳. That’s what I was watching last night. It’s also good to acknowledge the extraordinary in what I think of as my ordinary life! Cheers to 2023!!

Leave A Comment