MARION, OH—Following the passing of 82-year-old Joseph Howerton Saturday, the American people were, for the very first time, forced to confront the reality that death is an inevitable part of life that one day awaits us all.
While sources confirmed that the nation's 311 million residents were aware of death as a basic concept, the demise of Ohio retiree Howerton reportedly marked the first instance in which death became fully real to the U.S. populace, and not simply an abstract idea removed from their own lives.
"When I heard that [Howerton] died, it suddenly occurred to me for the first time that, 'Oh, my God, everybody dies, and once they do, they don’t come back,'" said Philadelphia real estate agent Tom Marsh, 52, describing a reaction shared by every other person in the country within hours of the news that Howerton had passed away. "Sure, I'd heard about people dying and seen it in movies and books and stuff, but I never had to come to grips with it until now."
"We're all going to end up like Joseph Howerton," concurred Phoenix-area factory worker Tami Weiss, 31, shaking her head slowly in apparent shock. "My parents, my friends, everyone. Even me."
Since Howerton's death from complications related to pneumonia, millions of people in all 50 states have reportedly spent hours "wrapping [their heads] around" the notion of life's impermanence, with more than 60 percent of all Americans vowing to cherish and appreciate their living friends and relatives with greater frequency, and 85 percent lying awake at night pondering the certitude and finality of death with mounting anxiety.
Although sources said the nation's entire citizenry had confronted death firsthand to a much lesser degree in 2001 following the death of St. Cloud, MN house cat Boots, nothing had prepared the population for the level of existential awareness that comes when an actual human being dies.
Americans also noted that they were very young when their grandfathers died so they didn't really have to deal with it then.
"It's like, one minute Joseph Howerton was there, and the next minute he literally just didn’t exist anymore," said noted author Cormac McCarthy, who needed at least three days to fully process the fact that the 82-year-old's death was a normal and natural occurrence in life. "His body was still there, but his actual spirit or soul or whatever was just gone, forever. It just—it's blowing me away."
In response to America’s growing comprehension of mortality as an inescapable fact of life, Congress plans to form a number of special committees this week that will spend long hours pondering Howerton's death, estimating how many years their own respective relatives have left to live, and coming to grips with how these deaths might affect them when they finally do occur.
President Obama also emerged from a two-day period of quiet introspection to speak on Howerton's death early Monday.
"Obviously, we went through this a little bit when Mary Greer of Twin Falls, ID passed away, but we weren't really that close to her, so this is different," the president said in a nine-hour-long address delivered at 3 a.m. last night. "It's just sort of a mind-fuck to think that everything dies and really none of us means anything in the grand scheme of things, because eventually we'll all be completely forgotten. So, in a way, it’s almost like all that matters is this moment right now, because everything in the past gets forgotten, and we all have only a short time to live in the future, so it's all just completely, I don't know, temporary or something."
"Do you know what I mean?" Obama asked the nation.
At press time, all 311 million Americans were quietly asking a friend or relative if they knew of someone they could talk to about this.