Honing in on Natural Causes

Duane Gundrum
3 min readNov 30, 2023

10 years ago, I heard that one of my music idols had passed away in what scientists would refer to as natural causes. It was a surprise at the time, but it was a different sensation noticed than when something tragic happened, like the murder of John Lennon. And in the 10 years that followed, I’d experience a few others you wouldn’t expect to happen just because hearing “old age” and, again, “natural causes” never seems to come across as understandable.

Which got me to thinking because I’m heading into that age where I’m starting to receive notifications of people passing away who are either my age or younger. And that’s just scary.

What’s really scary about it is sometimes you’d get word that some musician passed away of “natural causes” and their whole life is filled with outrageous drugs and drinking, while I agonize over taking a third aspirin for a really bad headache. I stopped drinking at 30, not because I had to but because I chose to. Unlike the rock stars of my age, I lived a pretty mundane life. I’m a writer, which means my crazy times involved me killing off a character prematurely, or allowing my protagonist to make decisions I would never consciously make.

But it sure does bring up a lot of perspective. You rarely think of mortality when you’re young, but when you start to reach a certain age, someone you know or knew passes away and suddenly you start thinking about it all the time. Get sick with something other than a cold or flu, and you think about it even more.

A couple of months ago, my best friend from when I lived in San Francisco passed away. Then my next door neighbor, who I used to talk to every day after I returned from work, also passed away. He had been living where he was because he was taking care of his mother. She’s still fine; he’s now gone.

Which brings me to the question that continues to plague me: Have I done enough to make my mark, will I make my own mark, or does it even matter?

When I run the numbers in my head, I immediately come to the conclusion that I’ve come nowhere near the amount of “stuff” that I should have done with my life. I went to West Point but left the Army long before I made an impact; I certainly never became an influential general. I picked up numerous graduate degrees, but I honestly can’t…

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Duane Gundrum

Author of Innocent Until Proven Guilty and 15 other novels. Writer, college professor and computer game designer.