It sounds morbid and brutal to admit and say it out loud (or, in this sense, type it)…but it’s one of the only things that is guaranteed in life. And I’m starting to see how healthy and beneficial it can be to acknowledge this simple fact.
Two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. We all saw it coming: she was 101 years old, and she was so tired. She was ready — as ready as anybody I’ve seen. It was not unexpected, tragic or sudden: my grandma had been suffering, physically and mentally, for many years. In fact, her death should have been a relief. But, somehow, it still felt jarring. Although we were all “ready,” it seems impossible for a death of someone loved to not affect you deeply when it finally comes to be…
Something about such a loss shakes your soul. Makes you question things… “did I tell them I loved them enough? Did I comfort them? Was I there when they needed me? Could I have been there more? Could I have been more present when I was there?” That questioning can wreck you. And it can progress to even deeper questions about your own life and death: “am I living to my fullest potential? If I died tomorrow, would I be satisfied with what I’ve done? Am I loving enough? Eating enough ice cream?” etc. Then, you find yourself with a pint of ice cream in hand, sans bowl, crying, reminiscing, pondering your very existence. Death! It really makes you think.
There is no such thing as a timely death. My grandmother’s death was “right on time,” in a sense, but because of COVID, she had to spend her last few weeks alone. She had to die alone…which seems like the most heartbreaking kind of death possible. The one we all fear the most. And then, a week later, my aunt died…
My aunt’s death was also not necessarily unexpected. Because of her alcohol and drug addictions, we all knew it was only a matter of time. For her, death came early (relatively speaking); she was only in her early 70’s. But it came as the only way out of her life lived in pain. The end of a dark, fragile, and anguished existence. Yes, there were moments of brightness. But her life in general was shaded by an inexpressible dark cloud. So her death was a reprieve, in a way. The saddest part about it was the realization that she never seemed to find true joy in life. It made me contemplate the joy I myself feel, and consider how to bring more of it to my own life. I now know that I find much of that joy in love…
Although my grandma died alone, she at least experienced love and connection, and she died knowing this. My aunt died alone in a different way. She was alone in her hospital room, and I believe she was, unfortunately, also alone in her heart. Did she ever experience love in her life? I’m sure she did. But her deepest love seemed to lie in relieving her pain, and that is such a tragic, unrequited love. COVID is the reason that my aunt had to die truly alone, and the reason why my grandma couldn’t have loved ones by her side. No, I don’t know anyone who has died from COVID-19, but I do know that this feeling and sense of loneliness caused by the virus has permeated all of our lives, in ways we couldn’t have ever imagined. Maybe this pain was unavoidable. Or perhaps it’s all due to the carelessness or greediness of some powerful people (which I do believe is true, to a certain extent). I wish we could go back and change the actions that we took (or did not take) at the onset of the virus…but we can’t. We are where we are, and blame will not help or change that. While inaction can certainly allow our pain to persist (I’m a big proponent of activism) I’m also learning about acceptance and the power that it can carry. And many of those lessons, at least for me, have been learned through death.
We are all going to die. Yup, I’ve been saying it a lot lately. The first time I heard the phrase in a meaningful/approachable way was the first time I listened to Sufjan Stevens’ album, “Carrie and Lowell.” The song titled Fourth of July repeats the phrase many times in a soft and gorgeous melody. I highly recommend this entire album…it makes you think about death and life and love. And the beauty that can be found in the connection of these things. I want to say that life isn’t possible without death, and in a way I know it’s true (think of the life cycles, and all the things that die in order to keep us alive)…but I do know for certain that death is what makes life so meaningful. So, can I claim that a good, full life is only possible because of death? Yeah, I’m gonna go with that. The imminent threat of death is what brings so much light to life. Without perceiving darkness, we would not perceive light. Perhaps the fact that our days are numbered doesn’t necessarily bring joy, but it does remind us to do the things that bring us joy. Knowing we could die tomorrow makes us live in the here and now. It’s what allows us to take risks, to enjoy adrenaline, to find flow. Death is unavoidable, and maybe my words don’t communicate it concisely or accurately, but that simple fact can be incredibly enriching. So I’m trying to remind myself every day: we’re all gonna die.
At the same time that it can be beneficial, though, sometimes I find the idea debilitating. If I and every one I know and love are just going to die, what the hell is the point of anything? Why would I care about eating healthy, getting educated, being kind, if it’s all for naught? WTF is the point. We just randomly ended up here, floating around on this planet, in the middle of a giant endless darkness. Do our lives have meaning, in the grandest scheme of things? I think the short answer is probably no. But, shit…how miraculous is it that things came together as they are now?! We were born. We have answered so many questions.
ONE of those can remain unanswered. Maybe it’s more fun that way anyhow. What is the point in worrying about what the point is? Too much deliberating and questioning really can be crippling. Letting go of the need for answers is just one step on the path to freedom
I don’t think we’re ever going to figure out the “why” to life. But I do think that sometimes you can feel it. In a spring blossom that reminds you of your grandma. In a hot bath on a brutally cold day. You can feel it in your lovers’ eye, in the perfect turn, in a delicious meal enjoyed with true friends. I think people find their answers in the things that language cannot describe. We can’t necessarily talk about it, but we can express it. We can feel it. I heard a great quote on a podcast recently. It was in fact asserted by a scientist: “you know more than you can say.” And realizing that was true felt so lovely. Just because you can’t describe it doesn’t mean you don’t know something. This is difficult for me to admit, coming from a very scientific upbringing…but, scientists know this best: even the certain answers are not without flaws. So I guess the best way to go about life is to keep questioning, but to be okay with the fact that you will never know some answers. Be okay with the unknown, but keep enquiring (and inquiring!) about it. Cause it’s fun to learn! And it is also exquisite to be able to find comfort in the unknown…
To find comfort in death. It sounds nearly impossible, but when you realize how much joy and fulfillment life can bring if death is faced with honest certainty…then, there is a kind of comfort in death. This doesn’t make death a “happy” thing; no, it still tears you apart. But it can bring an elevated perspective to being alive. The acknowledgement of inevitable death can allow a more fulfilling life to evolve.
Shit, though…it does make me incredibly sad to realize all the loss we experience through death. The loss of loved ones, the inescapable loss of life, the loss of “self.” It breaks my heart to imagine conscious existence coming to an end. It’s the same thing that keeps me awake at night — the genuine gratification I find in life. The pleasure of a flowing powder run. The satisfaction of a brimming harmony, a warm hug from mum and dad, the indulgence of a cinnamon bun. I have a difficult time accepting death, really accepting it, because of how much bliss I find in life. Sure, life also sucks. A lot, sometimes. But the delight and joy and love make the awful times tolerable.
I know that this clinging to life will only bring more pain…I do know that my resistance to death is increasing my suffering in life. So, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Meditating on, reading and dreaming about. Writing about! This ongoing skirmish with the idea of death is the only way to understand it. As hard as it is to confront, I think, as with anything else, it is the only way to be at peace with something. But unlike any other concept, I think it’s healthy to constantly remind ourselves that we are going to die.
To live fully is to hold death in your consciousness. I do believe it is one of our greatest teachers — regardless, it’s so challenging to allow death in. To really open up to it. But if we can, I think an enormous burden will be lifted. Huge life lessons can be learned. And, most importantly, we can live our best lives, how we want to live: like tomorrow may never come. Because, for some of us, it won’t. And that’s okay. Heck! We’re all gonna die.
Oh, speaking of death…can I make a TV show recommendation? Midnight Gospel. The end.
adventures to and from, here and there, home and away, around the world--through my eyes, lens, and mind