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Thoughts On… Death

thoughts on death post header when do i get the manual

I remember my first dead body.

That makes me sound like a serial killer. Let me rephrase.

I remember seeing my first dead body.

It was my maternal grandmother’s – my Yaya’s – and she was lying in a coffin with white satin lining. It was propped up, almost standing to face those coming to pay their respects, and she was pale. Unnaturally pale. Much paler than I had ever seen her. Her expression was serious, her mouth turned down at the sides. There was no joy in her face at all, which was very unlike her. She was a woman who was always smiling, always laughing, always trying – like a stereotypical grandmother from a storybook – to feed you delicious food until you burst at the seams.

She was a woman who was always shuffling around the kitchen, or fanning herself with her abanico as she leaned back, out of breath from laughing, sighing “Ay!”

She was a woman who always took the time to pin a brooch to her breast and put lipstick on before going out, who always sprayed herself with perfume and made sure each blonde curl was in place, and who had a faith in God that stayed with her even after hope had been abandoned.

Now she lay, silent and still, in a box behind glass; an unsettlingly strange and wrinkled doll in a building of tears and heartbreak. She no longer looked like herself. She was missing that spark that made her her. This wasn’t my Yaya, this wasn’t the woman who would envelop me in her arms and kiss me over and over again until I wriggled away laughing. This was a husk. A shell. This was the discarded coccoon of a life well-lived, of a woman well-loved.

Death frightens me.

Life frightens me.

It frightens me how fragile we all are. It frightens me that we go through life as thin-skinned human popsicles made of nothing more than a pinch of star dust and earth, brought together and animated by an ember of life.

And when that ember is extinguished or extinguishes itself, leaving behind the curling smoke of memories and loss in its wake, it can be suffocating. The after-effects of the end of a life can feel like your heart is in a vice, and every thought of the person you loved and lost is a turn of the screw.

Death is something that enters into all our lives, and it visits more often the older we get. We like to ignore it, skirt around it, pretend it won’t touch us with its long, cold fingers, but it does. It will. It is unavoidable.

When it will come to us is largely unpredictable. It can slip in and out of our lives at any time. As we grow older, we become more aware of its presence; we look over our shoulder every so often and do things that we hope will make death pass over us, at least until we are old and infirm. We stop smoking, we exercise, we eat healthy food. We become more risk averse. We understand the full weight of life. If we’re lucky, we accumulate loved ones and experiences and hobbies and passions that we don’t want to say goodbye to, and so we shrink back when we feel death nearby.

Don’t pick me. Don’t pick us.

We support our friends in their times of grief. We cry with them, because we know the pain. We may not feel their loss, but we feel their suffering. We read terrible, tragic stories about strangers and feel sorrow, but also relief; glad that it didn’t happen to anyone we know, glad that it happened to someone else, somewhere else. No matter that their grief is just as profound, just as crushing as it would have been for us.

Death is busy elsewhere, and we have the audacity to feel safe in its absence.

There is a unique and precious freedom that comes before we learn about mortality. As children, we exhibit a recklessness that we lose around the same time we begin to comprehend the concept of consequences. Even though this is obviously an important part of growing up, I’m starting to think we could all do with adding back a little of our childhood bravery. I know I could. After all, we don’t know when death will come to call.

Is there anything to be gained by dreading it the way we do? Is there anything to be gained by pressing ourselves against the wall, hoping to make ourselves invisible?

I’m not suggesting we all go BASE jumping in the morning.

I’m not suggesting we start a diet consisting solely of donuts*.

I’m just wondering out loud whether we – I – should live a little less fearfully. There are things I haven’t done yet because a thin, reedy voice in the back of my head makes it its mission to spook me every time I think about them too hard. If I talk myself out of things I wish I had the courage to try, am I really living my life to the fullest? I can’t keep putting things off for an indeterminate ‘someday’ when I don’t know how many somedays I have left. I should make the somedays today.

And so should you.

I hope that when death comes for me, I have lived a long and full life. I hope that like my Yaya, I leave behind memories of love and laughter, good food and good company. I hope that like her I have time to say goodbye to those I love, and that I face it with courage and acceptance. I hope, but I don’t know.

So in the meantime, I’m going to try to live fearlessly… or at least, less fearfully.

Same same, but different.

 

 

*Although how delicious would that be?

 

 

 

42 thoughts on “Thoughts On… Death

  1. I remember going on, and loving what I remember calling “death slides” as a kid. I tried going on one a few years ago and couldn’t push myself over the top as it didn’t make sense to me that I wouldn’t break on the way down, even with all evidence to the contrary. Being small is so much better you just know that you can do everything!

    I think feeding people up is a grandmother thing. I remember mine being appalled if we couldn’t eat dessert after all we were “growing” well into our twenties!

    1. A death slide sounds absolutely horrific to me. I’m not particularly great with heights, and when I see those free-fall type slides that are dozens of feet high I always feel like at some point I’ll become airborne and come right off the slide. I’d probably land in a tree somewhere with a broken spine and my spleen sticking out of my mouth. NO THANK YOU!

      I think the best grandmothers are all feeders!

    1. Yes, slow death is frightening to me. I always think of that scene in Austin Powers with the steamroller. A frustratingly slow but inevitable death.

      Only more frightening, because let’s face it if something is killing you slowly it’s a BITCH of an illness.

    1. I’d just eat original glazed krispy kremes with raspberry filling until I exploded. Death by donut. Actually might not be a terrible way to go? Although diabetes would probably kick in first….!

  2. Yes, be fearless but not reckless Life should be lived with abandon but not at the expense of abandoning life. Had I only figured that out 40 years ago. I wish I could blame it on the donut diet but in truth it was probably too much base jumping (or equivalent).

    1. Yes, this exactly. I think finding the balance is the hard part. I know I’m definitely playing it safe of late and I’d like to get a little more risky! Hahaha I’m starting to think the donut diet could have something to it!

    1. Really?! Irish wakes wouldn’t let you away with that, the body is right there in front of you, in the middle of the room, while people pass around tea and biscuits. I remember at one family wake my little cousin came up to me and shyly asked me if I’d touched the body. I said no, and she said, “It feels strange. Like rubber. Touch it!”

      I did not touch it. No thank you. Nope.

      1. wow. Well, looks like I need to go to an Irish wedding and an irish funeral…and then write a movie script about it haha! I think in America it’s important that we don’t shatter the illusion that we are all invincible….it would lead to us demanding things like health care lol

  3. I don’t fear death, but it isn’t due to lack of fear itself; more so the fact that I try not to think about it too much because, ya’ know, depression and shit. My experience with death has been very limited. Yes, I’ve lost loved ones, but I have only been to one funeral- for my paternal grandmother. At said funeral, extended family I didn’t even know came from out of state and started a fist fight in the lobby of the funeral home over where her body should be buried. I don’t think I will be going to any more funerals if I can help it… they seem to bring the worst out in people.

    1. Yeah. Well. Wow. That sounds like an Event with a capital letter rather than a funeral. Irish wakes are a bit hands-on for me because the body is right there in the room and everyone is milling around with their tea and their chocolate digestives and their triangular sandwiches, and it goes on all night and the whole thing is exhausting and unnecessarily morbid in my opinion. But I’ve never seen a fist-fight at a funeral, so apparently I have yet to see it all!

      1. My mom recently went to her aunt’s funeral and her brother showed up drunk. It was an open casket ceremony and he tried to give aunt Pearl a parting hug. Again… don’t think I’ll be going to any funerals in the near future.

        Come to think of it- maybe my family is just nuts!!

  4. My thoughts have been turning a lot more to death this past year, since we lost our young nephew to a sudden illness at Christmas. I don’t fear death, only living as my sister does having lost her child. And I fear what would happen to my own young family if I were to go too soon.

    1. That is so heartbreaking. I’m so sorry for your (you and your sister’s) loss. I understand your fears as well, they would make you feel hollow with worry if you spent too long thinking about them.

  5. I went to a funeral recently and when the family spoke it was about how professional and loyal this person was. It made me start to think of how I want to be remembered and what people will say about me when the time comes. That is what is important to me now. So I am living ….every day. I’m doing things that scare me…not base jumping, but just new adventures. And I’m laughing as often as I can…and teaching my kids to do the same xxx

    1. That is a frightening thought. I feel like you live life more than I do! Transplant and all! You’re kicking ass all over the place! You’re pretty inspiring really. As someone who has never been fit and thinks that day might actually never come, I’m thinking that I have absolutely no excuse, really. I love your attitude. I’d say you’re an amazing mum. Hope you’re feeling a bit better every day!

  6. A couple of thoughts
    You used the word “should.” A couple of my friends always chided me by saying that should was nice word, but didn’t mean anything. Abandon should and do it.
    Second
    Live. Live like you mean it. This isn’t about risk, but rather, enjoy every moment. While I wouldn’t want you risking your life, risking your comfort zone is probably not as bad. I don’t know what you have in mind, but think this way
    laugh when you want, not when someone tells you.
    applaud when you think something deserves your applause
    Don’t go on a donut diet, but do find food you love and enjoy it
    love your own voice
    love your own opinion
    love your thoughts, your feelings and your perspective
    If you want to do something, do it.
    Do it for yourself.

    1. Anthony, you’re exactly right, you know that? Should should (ha!) be stricken from my vocabulary, because I use it entirely too often. I love your comment. I’ve bookmarked it so I can look at it when I’m feeling unmotivated. Thank you.

  7. A philosophical post today. I used to be terrified of death when I was younger. Over the decades I have learnt to let go of the fear and replace it with an acceptance. To walk through the grief of losses treasuring the memories and gifts of lives lived – to the best each person was able to live it. And always with the comforting knowledge that it is but a door into the next realm 🙂

    1. I love this idea. I don’t think I can fully let go of the fear yet but I can loosen my grip at least! Hopefully in time I’ll let it go without even noticing.

  8. Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have truly loved surfing around your weblog posts. After all I will be subscribing on your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!|

  9. You know what helps me fight the fear of death – every petty thing in life. The flipping off of a fellow driver in traffic, the angry stare at a person cutting across your line in the supermarket, the stupid ego clash with a co-worker, all these trivial things take out the fun from life, but they also very effectively clear one’s mind of any thoughts around death. In those moments of trivial rebellion, we imagine a life that lasts millions of years and how the cause of irritation seems to provide a sense of permanence, unlike any other positive equivalent!

    I am not saying, we should all turn into negative nellies (and if that is not gender agnostic, then negative nicks?), but all I am saying is, even the stupid things we do or feel in life, sometimes has a greater purpose in life. So long as we do not directly hurt someone, I guess it is fine to keep sucker punching someone in our minds everyday 🙂

    1. This comment made me laugh and THIS part – “So long as we do not directly hurt someone, I guess it is fine to keep sucker punching someone in our minds everyday” – is 100% true!

  10. Yes, yes, and more yes — there is an awesome documentary on HBO called “If You’re Not in the Obits, Eat Breakfast” and you should watch it. It will make you want to LIVE YOUR BEST AND LONGEST LIFE.

    1. I’m going to watch this. I’m going to watch this, and then watch this space because I’m fully expecting to come back here ready to take over the world!!!

  11. Death doesn’t frighten me, really. Not because I have faith in the afterlife/God (my faith could best be described as “tenuous, filled with doubts, and a disinclination to modify my behaviour to suit the doctrine, so if there IS a God Im in serious trouble”), but because it is so inevitable, there is no point worrying or fearing it. It will happen when it happens.

    I DO fear incapacitating injury. A car crash that kills me? So be it. A car crash that leaves me a quadriplegic?! Revulsion.

    Like you, I find it terribly disconcerting and slightly horrifying seeing an open casket: the juxtaposition of the person I loved, physically the same, yet completely altered bc their soul is gone. Like a teddy-bear puppy vs a real life puppy (although I love my teddybears to bits, they are adorable and they DO have personalities, for REAL, y’all). But that horror serves to comfort me: clearly we matter, if in our absence, it is so very different for those left behind.

    I hope to live a full life, and I do my best, and struggle. But death feels like the reward to being alive, not the punishment. Being alive is HARD. Its painful, and exhausting, and exhilarating, and shitty, and miraculous. Just like nothing is better than a nap on a weekend after a long week, death is the perfect ending to life.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t feel terrible grief, I do:
    https://discoveringratchet.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/vechnaya-pamyat/

    It just means I don’t particularly care about death.

  12. Death will come when it will, no point killing ourselves over it.

    It’s a wonderful post and with a lovely message, I really enjoy your writing, so much so that I can say I really like you by now. 🙂

  13. When I hit 50 I realized that no matter which way I cut it, I was on the down slope of my life. I think that risk aversion is something that ebbs and flows throughout life, but i agree, there’s nothing quite like a 17 y.o. when it comes to fearless living.

  14. I think death should be discussed more its the only thing in life that is definite,yet everyone pretends it’s not going to happen or forgets about it until it’s time and then no one knows how to deal with it!
    Life is short or as my best friends Dad used to say ‘you’re a long time in a box!’

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