Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Death changes everything

One of the oddest things about death is how we all come face-to-face with it, time and time again, yet it is still the most overwhelming thing one can face. Its universality does nothing to dim the pain or make us feel anymore prepared for the reach of its effects.

Something changes in your core the first time someone close to you dies. A little bit of idealism disappears. The darkest of possibilities settles itself at the back of your mind.

I was lucky enough to live a fairly charmed childhood in this regard, with no one except for distant relatives and friends of friends of friends passing away.

It was a Tuesday morning, a month before I was set to graduate high school. My boyfriend was home sick that day, and I was contemplating asking my friend Malonie whether I could skip out of the meeting the two of us had (as we were both peer helpers) during my spare block so I could surprise him. As we pulled up to the front of the school, I noticed two of my friends hugging, one of them crying. Another friend made a snide remarks about one of the girls having got into yet another fight with her boyfriend.
It became clear that is was more by the sharpness of the pain in their eyes as we walked towards them. I felt all the breath leave my body when the words "Malonie's dead" were thrown out into space.

One of the things that people seem to cling in these cases is the nature of their last memory with the person. It can be overwhelming how unexceptional it may be, and you desperately replay it in your mind, looking for some sort of significance, some sort of sign that doesn't exist.

Another thing that struck me especially hard was the fact that the tragedy that had grabbed me by the throat was so generic to the rest of the world. The day it happened, for reasons that are fuzzy now, several of my friends and I went to the mall-- perhaps to buy some food or flowers. At this point, I had cried what felt like every ounce of emotion out of me, and was feeling dissociated and numb. However, I was pulled back to reality when I realized the women beside me in line were talking about Malonie's death in such disconnected terms. The words were there: "Isn't it awful? There was a really bad car accident and I heard a girl died". But the emotion wasn't. They didn't know her. She was just another anonymous tragedy, the one that people pause for a second to reflect upon, but then quickly move past. I wanted to scream at them for their callousness for just talking about her so casually as I stood there suffocating beside them. I wanted to throw my memories in their faces to make them understand how real it all was.

It's been over 8 years now, and I still get overwhelmed by the shift in perspective it has brought upon me. Although I casually pondered death before, I never contemplated in such a way. It becomes a real possibility now. I imagine what would happen if a car just didn't stop at the intersection as I was crossing. I spontaneously imagine the death of a loved one and consider it in detail. Mortality just feels so much more salient and obvious now.

The unpredictability scares me more than anything. It is the sound of my sister suddenly screaming when the voice on the line tells her that Vince has drowned. It is in the late night phone call sobbing that Charlie had completed what was normally a teenage rite of passage in leaping off the big bridge into the lake, and never came up again. It is in the email from Sarah's husband that she has passed away in her sleep, and was gone before I even sent her my last email. It is in the fact that nothing can prepare you for that moment, and you have no idea that everything has changed until that one simple second.

The remaining idealist in me says that the solution is to live every moment as though it was my last. The realist in me knows that is an impossible standard. And now I wonder whether it is more painful to try to expect death, so it can't ambush me again, or to keep on living as though it may not be hiding behind the next corner.

23 comments:

Ant said...

Morbid. But another brilliant post, ths time about a topic that I have discovered is more taboo than sex...

I've got an uneasy approach to death - in general I talk about it openly, and, whilst maintaining sensitivity for the hardest of emotions that it brings about, I do make cavalier observations about all having our "return ticket punched" and such like.

But I've yet to have the raw touch of having someone I really and truly care about being taken from me. The closest I've been was when my mum was diagnosed with an unusual and ultimately terminal illness, but she's still going strong...

I like to think when I am touched by something like that, that I'll still make the same remarks and will still appreciate life to the fullest, maybe more so...

captain corky said...

It's scary to think about. Especially now that I have a son. Plus, I'm getting older and that doesn't help matters either. All I know is that I'm happy right now and I'm going to embrace it as hard as I can for as long as I can, and hopefully it will be a really long time.

Beth said...

Oh, sweetie, you've experienced more than your share of dealing with death.
Don't even try living your life trying to avoid its ambush - that's like living in constant fear. And no matter how prepared you think you might be, it will cruelly and unexpectedly ambush you again.
And, yes, every death you encounter changes you profoundly. It's enough of a struggle coping and adapting to those changes.
And while it really is impossible to live in the moment, just give yourself an occasional reminder to do just that...

libby said...

wow, what a poignantly written post. i love it. and i struggle with the idealist/realist coin as well. ever trying to be the idealist.

All Mod Cons said...

Blimey. Post and a half. Must confess that due to the size of my family I had a "run" of funerals when I was younger. My Great Grandad passing away was the worst as he was a fantastic man. Almost 15 years on and I still think about him.

I think I've come to accept that death is utterly inevitable and that worrying about it isn't going to help me, it'll just hinder the minute time I've got here. As you say, living every day to the max is an impossible task, but I try and savour as much as I can.

Ashley said...

Death is a scary thing to think about, we just have to appreciate all that we have and that we are still alive. I hit a rough patch in high school where it seemed like all my friends were attempting suicide. One, my best friend, succeeded and it still haunts me almost 10 years later. I don't think things like that ever really go away.

Lisa said...

Beautifully written post. I've been meaning to comment but I'm not sure I have anything appropriately brilliant to say. I still don't.

I choose to live like death may not be hiding behind the next corner, mostly because I HAVE TO. I'm an idealist and like Calvin says, reality continues to ruin my life. I can only deal with so much heartache. Expecting more will be the death of me.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Yes, you have to live each day as if it is your last.

Its not a dress rehearsal, and every moment not experienced to the full, is a moment wasted.

Yoda said...

It always seemed odd to me that the only thing sure in life is the absence of it.

I'm sooo uncomfortable with death. The first time I encountered it when my mom's bro passed away. He was a chain smoker and had an enlarged heart. The odd thing about it was that we really knew how bad it was. We knew that it was his last night. Very odd feeling, I've never been able to forget that night.

Sheila said...

When my dad died suddenly at the age of 53, my world came crashing down. And since then, I have felt like I am waiting for the other shoe to fall. I have lost family and friends since then and their deaths, each unique have added to the reality of how short life can be.

Now, when I say good-bye, I do so more earnestly, with more thought.

Airam said...

Living life as though it were your last moment isn't about doing things that you wouldn't normally do ... although there is no harm in that either. It's doing things that make you happy.

Crashdummie said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes, and I can still feel them burning. It’s just that what you wrote is something I truly can relate too – tomorrow it will be a year since my mum passed away, yet the pain is as real and devastating as it was then.

Death is something we all have to deal with sooner or later, and I am really happy for those who are blissfully living, not having to lose someone they truly love.

My prayers will be with you & your friend.

SMARTBuddy said...

Wonderful post. I think Ive been lucky so far, but always have a bad day if I think too much about what the future holds. I think its good to live like it may not be hiding behind the next corner.

Dana said...

Well written but also very depressing. The thing is, death IS a part of life. We have to accept that as we do the other tragedies - disease, car accidents, loss of limbs, etc. Sure, death is the worst case scenario, and its always good to live every moment like it's your last, but you should also try to not overthink about it. Because thats when you take the "life" out of life.

Hope said...

I think about this very subject everyday. And like Sheila said, I feel like I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Thank you for expressing all of that here.

Bruce, a work in progress said...

Well said. It's easy to be philosophical when it's someone else but when it hits close to home the pain is very real no matter what you've told yourself up to that point.
None-the-less, death is a part of life and it's another point on the wheel. Living life like every moment is your last is a difficult task, as you said, but it's still a worthy goal. Like Airam said it's not about doing thing you wouldn't normally do. It's not really about doing things at all. It's just about changing your perception and your attitude so that you take the time to appreciate "normal" things and to show that appreciation. My two cents. Nice blog.

...BeccaLynn said...

I have to apologize. It has taken me FOREVER to get you on my blogroll. But You're there now. I know, I'm retarded.
But you, my dear. You are most definitely not retarded.

...BeccaLynn said...

Also, about this post: I agree that living your moment like it was your last is an impossible standard. As humans, it is our nature to get comfortable, take great things for granted.
But I do make a point to say "I love you" to Drew every time we leave each other. I know it seems creepy to think that every time we leave each other, it might be our last time, but honestly, I'd rather say it every time, all the time than not say it and it really be our last time to speak with him.

I usually don't think about it that deep, it's become a habit at this point.

eric1313 said...

Took me a bit to be able to respond, as well...

Your approach to dealing with death is a lot like mine. It's ironic that in reality, many of us actually do make deals to stave it off. When we get into precarious situations, we sometimes promise God or whatever higher power internal or external, that we will live our lives to the fullest, and do those important, kind, or human things that we've shamelessly put off, because we 'didn't have the time'. When we face the prospect of time running out for us, everything else seems entirely possible.

It is trite and unrealistic to say something like you have to live life to the fullest, every day like it's the last. After all, doesn't modern life require an ample amount of planning? We have to go through life the same as we did before, carry on and walk the rest of the miles we have ahead of us. But it is good to bare in mind that when something fun comes up and you have a moment spared to you by the seemingly clockwork universe, you should do it--and be glad to be able to forget about the great, dark eternity, if only for a moment of your existence.

It's a small comfort, but important none the less.
----
Yes, I do know about what you say...

My friend Ken Dyer (ironic name, indeed) died on the day he graduated high school. He was run over by a kid a year younger than him, who was speeding down a side street in a stolen vehicle.

My old band wrote a song called Dyer's Dream, we even recorded it, and even got to perform it on local television in Eastpointe Michigan. It was a nice tribute to somebody taken so young and unexpectedly. Not to mention I friend who hung himself a year later, a freind who's face was shot half off at a party through careless posturing and horsing around with a sawed-off shotgun, a few aquaintences who either likewise killed themselves, or found their way to the wrong place for the wrong last time...
-----
"When the hourglass has run out, the hourglass of temporality, when the noise of secular life, with all of its ineffectual activism has come to an end, when everything around you is still, as it is in eternity, then eternity asks you and every individual in these millions and millions about only one thing: whether you have lived in despair or not."

--Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

Thank you for the post, Princess. You said a lot and I hope you keep exploring thee notions until you find a few answers, at least for your own peace of mind.

Princess Extraordinaire said...

Very meaningful post - I am of the thought that you should try to live each day as it comes,livein the present, however, it is a tad bit idealistic. I used to say I want to die before anyone close to me so I dont have to deal with the sorrow and pain but I soon realized I was being so selfish..

eric1313 said...

If you don't mind, here's a favorite poem...


Anonymous
by Anonymous

I sit in my cubicle
here on the Mother World...

When I die
They will put my body in a box
and bury me in the cold ground.

And in all the million ages to come
I will not laugh or breathe
or twitch
again

So won't you run and play with me
here in the teaming mass of humanity?

The universe
has spared us this moment.

Michelle said...

wow this post was brilliantly written PP.

i can't even begin to imagine the pain and heartache you've dealt with in losing the people closet to you. i've yet to experience that kind of pain and i am terrified because i know eventually i will have to. we all do.

cdp said...

I'm not really sure what to say other than that this post blew me away. And I'm crying.

I've experienced some very incredible loss the last two years. Perhaps the wound is a little fresh. For what it's worth, I thought this was magnificent, PP. Truly. Not a happy topic but I found this beautiful nonetheless.