‘I’m Going To Die Young, Mom’: What I Learned Writing About A Victim Of The Germanwings Plane Crash
This article originally appeared on the Latin Times.
It was a slightly provocative headline that drew a lot of readers; Germanwings Plane Crash: Mexican Victim Daniela Ayón Predicted Her Death. I wrote the article last week for the Latin Times. Like many I was intrigued by the “prediction,” a coincidence that underscored how we perceive the apparent poetry of the universe. Ayón’s mother, Gladys Razo, explains how her daughter “knew” that she was going to live a short life.
“I’m going to die young, mom, that’s why I want to leave my footprint before I take the next step, and I want people the people who knew me to know me and say good things about me,” Ayón reportedly told her mother, according to an interview Razo gave to Excelsior.
In order to write the story I had to dig into the promising of another young person in a way that I had never done before. I read about her dreams, knowing that they were now frozen in the low-bit frames of YouTube videos. I looked at her Facebook page, where I found a photo her sitting in a lotus pose on a crosswalk in New York City, a world away from her home town of Tampico, Tamaulipas, México. From what I had learned about Ayón, the photo captured her life two ways. She was an aspiring yoga teacher, and an ardent world traveler. I used it as the opening image of the article.
Minutes after I published the story for lunch I left my house in a melancholy stupor, hyperconscious of my mortality, yet humbled by Ayón’s apparent acceptance of events beyond her control. I went to a café with my father, and we ran into an old friend. His son, whom I remembered as a 50-pound toddler, was now playing football at a big university. His two daughters were happily and healthily.
The man’s sister, in her sixties, had recently died from a particularly lethal form of cancer. She was diagnosed in some late stage, with only a few months to live and next to zero chance of survival. He told me the story of her last three weeks of hospice care, which took place in another state.
“Death is beautiful,” he said, as he explained that she went into a coma after the first week. Nurses gave him a full vial of morphine, with instructions on how to administer the entire thing at once, if he wanted her to pass quickly and end her suffering.
“I couldn’t do it,” he told me. She laid comatose for another week.
“Then ten days later she bolted upright in her bed, and went into a lotus pose,” he said. Legs crossed, and hands at her side, she sat up and said “Okay, it’s okay, here we go.” A few days later, she died. I hadn’t told him anything about the article that I had just published, and how it was Ayón’s lotus pose that I chose out of dozens of other images chronicling her life.
The coincidences didn’t end there.
After returning home and finishing my workday, I got a call from one of my best friends, a high school roommate who lives in his native Czech Republic. We hadn’t spoken in months, so it was quite a coincidence that he called to report the death of his grandfather. A few weeks before he passed, the old man had asked about me, despite having only met me for a brief moment, about five years before. I was sincerely touched. Not only had this man thought of me in his last hours, but he’d cemented my sense that I was a part of his family and an important feature in his grandson’s life.
As I acknowledged in my article about Daniela Ayón, stories about grieving families and dead victims can look like voyeurism. Yet the story of Ayón’s life and death struck a chord of empathy, resonating with me and thousands of other readers. Reading about her life, I walked away a little less afraid of death, a little more reverent of every day, and committed to cultivating the poetry of each personal connection.
Cedar Attanasio is the Immigration and Politics Writer at the Latin Times. He is a perpetual student of Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, and all things Latin America. Cedar is a graduate of the United World College of Hong Kong, Middlebury College, and Middlebury College Language Schools. You can follow him on twitter @viacedar.