What bothers me most about death?
Things that bother me about death: the suddenness of it. How you don’t get any more chances to make things right after a person dies. The rotting in the ground aspect. Things left undone. The depression that appears to accompany old age – “that won’t be me! I’m going to volunteer in the community, teach little kids to read, etc etc.” The thought that maybe my grandmother killed herself, and maybe my grandfather did the same thing two years later. Wasted opportunities. Unfulfilled dreams. The feeling of inevitability, hopelessness, like, I can do great things, but it’s all a veil, a lie, because no matter how you run your life, you’re going to die anyway.
Is that true? What about Mortality Escape Velocity (MEV)? The idea that, you only have to live long enough for science to find a way to extend your life by 15 years, and take that treatment, then tough it out for another ten years, when they find another way to extend your life by 15 years.
One of the things that bothers me about death is how little we talk about it. It’s really the pink elephant in the room, people, how can we not talk about it? It’s one of the few things we all have in common.
What I don’t like about death is, you never know when it’s your time, well, unless you can see it from a far ways off. I think most people die old, and not so many die young. I wonder if that impression is backed up by fact? We make such a big deal out of young people dying – it’s so unexpected, they had all this potential, I never got the chance to…, what if I’m next, what did s/he do wrong, how can I avoid doing the same thing, my life is so often in other people’s hands, how can I trust strangers driving next to me on the highway to not kill me with their idiot texting and blahblahing on the phone, don’t they realize that they’re following too close, not holding their lane, not going fast enough? WTF is so goddamned important that you have to risk your life and mine, taking that call? Texting that friend? Can’t it wait?
Maybe it can’t wait. We’re all going to die. Or, it seems very likely that we’re all going to die. If we hit MEV, and start having people be 120 years old, or older, well, those will be some strange times.
Maybe those people texting feel like NOW is the only moment over which they have any control, and so they do it NOW NOW NOW, why would I wait to make a call when I can do it NOW? What if I wait, and the loved one I was going to call dies in the meantime, and I never get that last chance to say “I love you, even though you’re a racist and I’m embarrassed to bring friends to meet you because it’ll only be about 20 minutes before you’re off again about how the Jews control the media, the Japs this, the Spics that…”
What’s up with the need to say that one final “goodbye”, anyway? I mean, can’t the last time I said “I love you” suffice? Maybe if it was recently enough, like days ago, and not years ago.
How did you die? What were your final thoughts? Were you even awake? Were you scared? Did you wonder if anyone was going to come help you, and then no one did, and you died feeling alone and betrayed and scared?
What if I die like that? Fuck. That would be terrible. I hope it wasn’t like that for you. But it’s hard to imagine an excellent death. What would that be like? I think it used to be the case that you could die an excellent death. Like, riding off into battle – getting a sword in the chest for standing up for what you believe in – that sort of thing. Now, life is so much more civil, and comfortable, and dull, that you’re really unlikely to have a noble and worthwhile death. You’re much more likely to get old, lose your mind, break your hip, and sink slowly into decline.
And maybe kill yourself.
I wonder how many old people really die of “old age”, and how many get sick of waiting, in chronic pain, ignored by their children and grandchildren, out of hope, out of energy, out of ideas, just waiting. And then deciding not to wait.
It’s tough to talk about suicide. Like the idea might be contagious – like, if I start talking to you about suicide as a concept, you might a) start thinking about killing yourself and b) wonder if I’m thinking about killing myself. Which I’m not. Not yet, anyway.
I cam’t say that I’ve ruled out suicide at a later age. There’s too much “what if”. What if I’m miserable? What if I’m a burden to my family? What if people start to treat me like crap, and I start to doubt my self-worth? What if I go deaf, blind – both? It’s too many unknowns. I can’t say I’d never kill myself. But I wouldn’t kill myself any time soon. I have too much to do.
That’s a disturbing thing to say – I’m too busy to kill myself. Begs the question, what if I weren’t too busy? What if I ran out of things to do, or, I mistakenly perceived that I had nothing to do, literally no reason to continue living?
What if I got really curious about what might come after death? Would I jump into it, just to see what happens, knowing that doing nothing while alive, and doing nothing while dead, would amount to pretty much the same thing, except, I already know what doing nothing and being alive is like?
Do other people think about this?
And how do I avoid feeling all depressed and self-judgy while I talk about it?
Whose death impacted me the most, and why?
My grandmother on my dad’s side died, and I wrote and delivered her eulogy. I’d never done that before, or since. I like to think that reading “Speaker for the Dead” years earlier helped prepare me to write a truthful eulogy.
It went well, if you can judge a eulogy that way. One of my cousins applauded. Maybe because the speech was good, maybe because I was bawling the whole time and I kept talking anyway. That was the hardest speech I’ve ever given. I was regular-nervous, plus being-in-front-of-my-whole-family-all-200-of-them nervous, and more upset by her death than I predicted I would be. I had some warning the night before, when I hit on the theme of the eulogy, and I got all weepy feeling bad for myself and for not being closer to my grandmother. But now I think it was for the better – I think I would have ended up with some pretty disabling beliefs, had I hung around her too much. Like, she told my sister, “All men are the same, just pick one,” and of course my sister ended up married to (now divorced from) an abusive alcoholic. I can’t understand how my grandmother could advise my sister like that. I mean, my grandmother divorced her own alcoholic, and remarried a much nicer guy – a genius and a farmer. So why would she say something stupid like “all men are alike”? Was it just because she wanted to be a great-grandmother before she died? I think so. She was sometimes selfish like that. She really took it on the chin when her family moved from England to Canada when she was 15. Never mind that Wigan had no work, and no work = no food. She was a teen, probably fully invested in her friends and her town, and bloop, off to North America. She was probably pissed.
Do I believe in an afterlife?
Here’s what I hope: I hope, after all the mistakes I’ve made in this lifetime, that when I die, I can put in another quarter, and try again.
But what I suspect is, this is it.
It. All there is. You live, you die, pfft. That’s it.
At the same time… Well, I might believe in ghosts. Like on this one writing gig I did, every time I passed my manager’s cubicle, I got the impression that I was going to bump into someone, but there was no one there, and I got the feeling I was passing through someone. Weeks later, my boss mentioned how her husband had died. And I thought, well, that explains that feeling – either he’s there, literally watching over her, or, she’s imagining him there, so strongly, that I can feel it.
It’s probably delusional, but, I’ve always felt sensitive – I feel like I take in more information than most people. More impressions. Like, more information than a person is intentionally giving out. I feel like I’m always guessing at what’s really going on, and I’m a pretty good guesser. Sometimes. I dunno. I had some weird precog experiences I couldn’t explain as a kid.
Notes I took at my Uncle Dick’s wake
How about a white coffin and colored Sharpies? Everyone signs the coffin at the wake.
Is seeing the made-up dead body really necessary to the grieving process? What's the fascination with seeing the person "one last time"? Is it just for closure? So you're certain no prank is being played on you?
What's the point of dressing a person better than they ever dressed in real life?
This musak is odd – sentimental and familiar, and only a little weepy. I wonder how long the loop is.
What's the etiquette on photographing the body? Bad form?
If people show up to a wake drunk, how do you handle the conversation to block them from driving home drunk?
Why don't we Americans have a tradition of making handcrafts to place in the coffin and bury with the body? Wouldn't it be therapeutic, cathartic, to make something, a parting gift, with our own hands, and give it to the dead person? Physical and symbolic closure?
Why didn't I bring my computer? Oh yeah, appearances.