Life Goes On….Are you Coming?
Death comes in such a variety of packages that even when anticipated, predictable, or inevitable, it still seems to pack a wallop usually associated with surprises.
Those deaths that sneak up on you, however, leave an imprint like a branding iron, deep and permanent. Often on your heart, sometimes on your mind, and every once in a while, on your ass. Only sociopaths seem to go unscathed, consciously, from death’s sting.
I find how people react to death to be revealing and informative. Death has come out of the closet in this era. We know, often within minutes, when someone passes. Much of the mystique has been removed, and there’s a lot to be said for demystifying death. I think people tend to fear it less when it becomes an entity, more than an abstract religious or philosophical construct. Religion has contributed mightily to the confusing, frightening nature of death, merely by associating it with the end of life, and the beginning of a new existence. That dichotomy is a lot to expect us humans to get our heads around.
The finality of death is both jarring in its absolute conclusion, and comforting in that we know it will happen to all of us. There is an odd succor to be drawn from the inevitable. A peaceful resignation and acquiescence to a higher authority, who, or what, ever it may be. The emotional safety net of “strength in numbers’ takes on an ironic twist when death is seen as the one universal rallying point for all of man.
I have seen people respond serenely to the most gruesome, tragic death of a loved one, and have also watched someone completely collapse in upon themselves with no apparent perspective, as an elderly loved one dies at the end of a long illness, and an even longer life.
That second one flummoxes me. I think of that reaction as almost contrived, as if they have seen how people respond to death, and this is the only way they can act, mirroring what they have seen. The wall of denial is so thick and impenetrable, they choose the known example of mourning instead of attempting to breach their own defenses and delineate how they really feel.
Guilt at not feeling devastated at the death of a loved one often creates the obvious over-reaction. You can usually spot them. The wailers, the non-stop sobbing, the lowered brim of the inappropriate hat to cover the darting eyes seeking to make sure everyone knows they are distraught. Look for those people as they elbow their way to the front row at the trust fund meeting in the near future; held in the wood paneled attorney’s office, they are suddenly dry-eyed and cold hearted, demanding their more-than-fair-share, exclaiming ‘hey, look how much I loved him, I was inconsolable at his funeral’.
Ah, cynicism, thy real name is reality. The hypocrisy of our reaction to death is often hilarious, but rarely non-existent.
I’ve found it be a luxury when death can be anticipated and I’m allowed to prepare for it. I’ve had the stomach punch deaths in my life, and I’ll take the 90 year old relative succumbing after six years of extended hospice care, every time. It’s like comparing a punch in the nose to a slap in the face.
True shock, devastation and pain are wrenching and often elicit surprising thoughts and emotions attached to such an overt, but genuine reaction. I found myself struggling mightily with forgiveness, for both myself and my father, after his suicide.
Flailing about with this nebulous, hard-to-grasp concept, I remember finally embracing the fact that though nonmalleable, forgiveness for me meant not beating up on myself, or my father, for his destructive, selfish, and shortsighted act. Suicide is man’s way of giving one final finger to his enemies and demons. On paper, it sounds fair and almost sensible. To whatever face-filled canvas my dad flipped his final bird, I know my mug was on there somewhere, though any anger at me was indirect and had little to do with me or my behavior, but more to do with what a son represented to my father, deep in his soul.
A threat? To his manhood? To his dominance? To his autocratic control?
Check, check, check and check.
I know a friend, actually my very first love interest, who recently lost her father in his early 90s. He’d been ill with dementia and assorted maladies, and had basically been dying for a couple of years, and could have gone at any of those 1,051,897 minutes. He died right around Christmas time. A close knit Italian family, they all live within minutes of each other in Las Vegas. And her mom is of a similar age and in failing health as well.
My friend is devastated. Floored. Knocked out. Grief ravaged. A wreck. In addition to her ailing mother, she has a younger brother and an older sister, but she is clearly the remaining matriarch of the family. There was and is a very real, concrete need for her to step up and be the strong one, and yet she wallows, to this day, in sadness; emotionally dismantled, needing, more than providing, succor and strength.
I know this may sound harsh, but I am more curious than critical of her behavior. I don’t believe she fits into the guilt category mentioned above. She adored her father. He was a good man. Worthy of grieving and deep-seated acknowledgment of the void he left. But she clearly did not prepare herself for his absence. Why? More specifically, how could one NOT anticipate the impending loss of a man in his situation? She is a devout Catholic, where one’s mortality is often an undercurrent to everyday life, yet she ignored her training.
Denial is all I can come up with. This is hardly breaking new ground. Most humans, at one time or another, have embraced denial instead of facing death, their own or someone else’s.
Every time a cigarette is lit and inhaled, ranch dressing dipped into, bacon wrapped around ground beef; every time a blunt is fired up, a Martini sipped, a busy thoroughfare crossed, unprotected sex enjoyed; are we not tempting fate, are we not giving our own indignant, rebellious finger to the Gods?
Suicide has many layers, methods and modalities. From guns, ropes and trains, to the more subtle, less direct modes listed above, aren’t we all killing ourselves, a little bit at a time? The clock never stops ticking. A clock is the least punished thief in the history of man kind, stealing our lives right before our eyes.
Living well is the best revenge, I have found. I have gone back and forth about my own demise, unsure as to how I want to die. Sudden? Drawn out?
Sudden, but without violent or shocking overtones, would be my choice.
Any form of hospice care, where I’m allowed to mull over my life, finger the regrets floating around in my mind like potential missiles, or do any in-depth assessment, is not acceptable. Shit, I do that now, while I’m upright, living and breathing. I know where I stand with most people. I definitely know where I stand with me. Death showing up on my doorstep suddenly will not change that.
I don’t want a supine therapy session with myself while my mortality hangs in the balance, wondering why I did what I did, said what I said, and kicked myself like I did? That emotional masturbation session is not how I want to spend my final weeks, days or hours.
Take me in between thoughts, when my mind is on vacation. It’s not often, but I’m hoping fate finds that little window of opportunity, and pulls me through it, head first.
I’ve analyzed things my entire life. My final moments should involve a grin, the mental image of a beautiful girl, an ice cold martini, and my ultimate metaphor for death: a setting sun.
© Copyright 2016 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.