Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's Better Left to Poets When the Words Think That They Know Us

It's quite surreal to watch someone you love watch someone they love die.

In many ways it's so removed – a person you've met a few times dying. The human loss in palpable, but it doesn't cut so deep, like reading obituaries. Yet you watch someone else feel that deep pain slice into them.

I've never cared much about death. I committed to the idea that dying is just that, your body will recycle back into the earth and consciousness ceases at the last breath and heartbeat. It's an easy place to live, really. Knowing this thing is inevitably coming towards you and that's the fucking end. It makes you live. One of my best friends was chatting with me about religion in high school and I explained my simple view of passing. She was aghast: "You mean you aren't afraid of dying?" She thought that was so liberating – to have the freedom to make what you wanted of a death. I've spent a long time hating the religious leaders that taught her to spend her life terrified of dying.

I also remember my mom talking about her relationship to dying. I remember her recounting a discussion with her agnostic father when she realized why people crave religion. It's so people can make sense of death. At it's core, I completely agree, religion's main purpose to to let people cope with loss. I don't know that giving people something higher to blame or hope of where the deceased is going necessarily does healthy things for humanity's ability to work through loss, but I can certainly feel the appeal of the idea.

My first exposure to death, at least that I am very aware of was a hamster. I informed my father before I went to bed that my hamster was about to die. He didn't take me seriously and put me to bed. My hamster was dead in the morning. I didn't experience that as a loss so much as being annoyed that I was right and hadn't been listened to. I got a new hamster. Years later my guinea pig died. We had been on vacation and someone else was supposed to be taking care of the pets, so again I experienced mostly anger at the person I perceived to be responsible.

Then the dog that I had grown up with died. My parents got Dinah long before I was born and I was sad, but mostly disconcerted, having never lived in my house without her. I remember my father being the most emotional I think I have ever seen him though as he wrestled a boulder out of the grave he was digging by my swing set. In many ways I think he needed that boulder – it was something to do and something to be mad at.

Maybe shortly after or maybe shortly before one of my friends got into a car accident with her older brother and died. That simply. One day she was in class with me the next morning my mom was waking me up telling me about the newspaper headline. At school I stood in a circle with some other close friends who wanted to pray. It is the only time to date I haven't felt horribly awkward with people praying – somehow then it was sweet, and comforting, and necessary. I went to her funeral but didn't think I could handle the viewing. One of my friend's fathers drove us and I remember him complimenting me on my dress and hating him for saying it. It wasn't a day I wanted to feel pretty. Courtney and Dustin will forever be close to my heart.

Next, I remember one of my grandma's best friends dying. I knew Nancy had been just as inspired by her as everyone likes to tell you they are by dead people but really wouldn't have said that before they died. That always bothers me. We pretend people who have passed away were always saints on earth. It isn't true and them being dead doesn't mean we have to pretend they were. Wouldn't lives be a lot more special if we accepted faults but we able to really engage with the things we loved and hated about someone. Nancy was every bit as amazing as any eulogy might hint and her incredibly memory should stand apart from others. We found out Nancy died during the fireworks show on the 4th of July in the rain. We sat in the rain and watched the amazing display and cried. Fireworks always look different to me now – not bad, just bittersweet. Fireworks will always demonstrate to me Nancy's amazing spirit and be a celebration of that life. Nancy's memorial service was the first time I can remember crying out of pure sadness, not being angry or in pain, but sadness.

I've certainly had other run-ins with death, but those are the ones I know shaped me.

A magnificent woman died this morning and even though I've only met her a few times, I can tell that her spirit, like Nancy's was special. A woman who dropped her life to take care of her family and at height of chemo sickness was cracking jokes and playing with a toddler and will forever be in my heart for keeping the person I love safe and sane through some of the darkest moments imaginable.

If we let it get this far
We might as well follow through to our destiny
But if it's written in the stars
Then we should throw it all away
What are we waiting for?

It's better left to poets
When the words think that they know us
And they're floating right below us
And they're hoping we can swim