I fear greatly the answers to the questions surrounding death. It pains me to think too much about any of it. Rather than the belief in something after, I believe solely in attempting to make the best of these precious earth-bound moments. And yet, usually catching me entirely unaware, the thoughts creep back into my brain. What lies after? How can we succinctly tie our own spiritualities with the scientific, with the known, with the cold reality of it all?
I remember the immensity that was the moment – that singular moment – when we put down our beloved golden retriever. His head coming to rest for the last time on my shoe. My jerky response as I stood, smashing into the paper towel dispenser. The nurse (nurse? vet tech? lady in scrubs?) attempting to comfort me and me pushing her away because the tears were coming too fast and I couldn’t wait to break away and be alone, where no one would see me crying. I realize that this is in no way comparable to the deaths of those humans we come to love so much, but then again, I think perhaps that even those mammalian deaths hold the keys to true humanity. The singularity that ties us all together: love.
No matter how it happens, death holds some sort of quiet whisper, a moment in which time stops rushing and instead, lingers for the exhale. It’s not something that will ever leave you. (I do not speak as one wizened by so many experiences, thankfully, although the few that I have had with death have been personally profound.)
I was reading in the bathtub (now that I’m taking baths again, my reading material has multiplied immensely) and I found myself falling in love with the protagonist of the book I’d just started – it’s been languishing in one of my book suitcases (yes, I have those) for ages and I’ve just now gotten around to picking it up. She embodies, for the moment, everything I find wonderful: strength, intelligence, determination, the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine, beauty, courage. And yet, I found myself terrified that she’d die before the end of the book. In that moment, I was certain of her death. I flipped to the last page (a terrible habit, but one I take great comfort in – I even do it with romance novels, and you know from the third page how those are going to end) and sure enough, she dies. It’s a beautiful death, really, her soul personified by birds. But now I’m happier to read about her life. I can take comfort in the fact that I already know how she dies, yet I’ve not at all ruined the book for myself.
This is the point of all of this, I guess: even though you can not know the exactness of your own death, you know that at a certain point, it must come. I look at those yellow feline eyes that I love so much and realize that I can’t keep them forever. I push away the melancholy thoughts, realizing that loving him now is so much better than focusing on the pain I’ll feel when he’s gone. I circle back, from time to time, working myself up thinking about the emptiness that the deaths of those I love will leave. I think it stems from the knowledge that one day, I will be without my mother. In my attempts to soothe myself, I have begun to steel myself against the void I know will exist. Void is inadequate. It will be like a roaring vacuum. It will pull at the edges of my soul.
But it is natural. (I remember this book they got us to teach us about death. I’ll never forget how incredibly mystified I was when I read it. I hated the book and yet something drew me to it. It calmly taught children that everything must die, and yet it horrified me. I hated connecting dead leaves to people. Something resonated somewhere deep inside of me. I often think of that book and wonder what it would be like to read it again now. I wonder if it’s in a box somewhere in a basement.)
Death and taxes, they say. But they’re not wrong. To know the eventuality of it before it happens is to hope that one will be able to fully embrace everything that is life knowing the finality of it all. The chance to struggle and create, to learn and understand, to think, to feel, to be, to love passionately and freely is a gift. Those moments are the footprints we leave behind. To love deeply and live fully are my only goals. If at my funeral, people don’t laugh and tell horrifyingly embarrassing yet endearing stories, I will be incredibly bummed. Life is a wild adventure. It’s beautiful and bittersweet.
Either way, it is certain. It’s comforting, in a way, to know that everyone has to do it. Someone’s doing it right now. Someone did it yesterday and someone will do it tomorrow. We are all born and we will all die, but what we do in between belongs solely to us. That’s the best part.