The death of someone whom you care deeply about is one experience that everyone wishes they could avoid. As much as one may hate it, death is a situation that will bestow itself on everyone. As the main character in "Life or Death" is confronted with the truth and finality death holds, he turns to religion as his vessel to navigate through the tragedy. He fights through the great sadness and sorrow of losing a close friend with the belief that his friend must have gone to a happier place, and justifies this situation to himself and others by returning to his religion that offers hope. The main character overcomes the stillness and finality of Kims death with faith and confidence gleaned from his religion and by recollection and application of the "power" in physical touch. This power was shown by the influence Kim had on others and by the comfort it brought to his mourners. If his religion did not hold promise of a better place after death, he would have had to face a deeper sense of loss and finality.
Death takes life from an individual here on earth and insuring stillness in their body, yet leaving the memories of their life to be pondered. Faith can offer hope of a life after death, but here on earth, death guarantees stillness, the body is lifeless, "He laid just as still as could be" (1). This stillness cannot be changed and brings a sense of finality that challenges the main character to live his life in a manner that puts off stillness until it is unavoidable by death. "We have to try to not lie around passively" (2) is the motivation that flows through his mind as he is determined to make a difference in the world. If he doesnt take action now while he is in control of his life death might come tomorrow and claim his life before he has the opportunity to make a difference. The stillness and vulnerability that death brings is unavoidable. "The makeup they put on his face couldnt hide the evidence" (1) reveals that once an individual dies there is nothing they can do to manipulate the way others view his/her body or lifestyle. Both the body and earthly life are open to critical examination as others ponder what each used to do. Kim is unable to refute the opinions that are thrown around about his life and impact on others.
Since Kim is stilled, he can no longer justify or defend the choices and actions of his past, so the main character justifies them by what he knew of Kim according to his own religious beliefs. He turns to religion and the hope it brings in order to escape the reality of death. Ones religion can have a huge influence on how a person comes to terms with the death of another. The main character seems to grab hold of the fact that Kim is "now in a better place" so the grief felt by himself and Kims mother will be lessened, rather then referring to an assurance that is imbedded deep in his heart. He appears to turn to religion as the solution and answer to the circumstances of death. The main character is well aware of the difference that beliefs can make, "never underestimate the power that faith in these things [heaven, hell, or even reincarnation] can have for a grieving person" (3). The hope and belief that Kim is in a better place seems to be the solution to dealing with death. The hopes that "Kim must have gone to a great place" (3) and "He must be looking down on us smiling" (3) show little assurance or evidence of firm beliefs, but rather a trick or cover to avoid the sorrow of death. This mirage seems to satisfy the main character as well as Kims mother, "she now dreams of Kim and finds comfort. Never does the dream come back with anything bad". Whether Kim actually was, heaven or hell, doesnt bother the main character because he seems peacefully lost in a sudden religious feeling, death must lead to something better. This is his solution to dealing with the death of a friend.
This new found religious hope is used along with the various and powerful aspects of physical touch to comfort the main characters broken heart. The sense of touch first clues him into the reality of death, then helps him grieve, and finally aids him as he reminisces of Kims life. "His hand was cold to the touch" (1) is part of the dagger that drove the fact, Kim was dead, deep into his saddened heart. Since death was confirmed by his own senses he is quick to begin dealing with his emotions and mending the hole left in his own heart. The comfort and support the main character needed was in the form of physical touch. He was met by a long embrace with Kims mother, "we hugged for a long time, we both needed it" (1). The support of fellow survivors and mourners was an effective way to fight through the tears. The ability that Kim used to hold for touching people and making them happy also served as a way for the main character to view Kims life in a positive light, "Kim touched more people then you can imagine" (2). The main character took comfort in the fact that Kim held "a magical ability to touch those around him" (3) and that those actions he carried out revealed a bright side of Kims life on which one could reflect and dwell on instead of focusing on his death itself.
When faced with the tough situation of a friends death, the main character is able to escape the misery by turning to a faith that gave hope of a better place, and dwelling on the results of the "magical touch" (3) that Kim possessed. The combination of these two avenues made it possible for the main character to deal with his misery and grief. They gave him the strength to face the stillness and finality that death holds for its victim. Kim was now in a better place, and he had gone there after touching the lives of many here on earth, was the dream that would remain in the mind of the main character as he was forced to go on with his life. Kims death had given him the motivation to seek out his own purpose in life and had challenged him to find a way where he could impact others the way Kim had touched him.
Wiley, Eric. "Life or Death". Tacoma, WA: 2000.