“The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”
Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death
The first memory: My Great Grandma Kate died when I was young. I'm not sure how it happened or how old she was or how old I was. I wore suspenders to her funeral - or was it overalls? I wish I knew these facts.
It fits your expectations: My Grandma Ethel died of emphysema after a lifetime of smoking. My Great Grandma Audrey succumbed to age after 104 healthy years. I loved them both. So it goes.
It can happen any time: In 1994 my Grandpa Jim, a patriarch in the truest, hit his head on a car door and fell into a coma. He survived in a very limited mental capacity for 4 more years. When he died in 1998 the entire family was with him the night it happened. I remember the smell of the room and what was on the TV. I wasn't old enough to feel the visceral pain of losing someone that comes with age, but I was old enough to witness it in others.
For no reason at all: When my cousin Pearce died in a car accident in 2008 I was old enough to feel it. He was like a brother to me. It hurt and I was in a bad place. Soon after, I tripped on (a lot of) acid for the first time. I saw his smiling face carried by waves floating in the void of a dark and empty room. I saw his spirit drift into the cool, clear November night sky. It felt like I got to say goodbye. That helped, even if it was a contrivance of the compound. By then I had a clear understanding that I was going to die. His death hurt more because I knew it could happen to me - at any time, without my permission, for no reason at all. Selfish. And with that, the invincibility of youth was gone.
"Mother Nature is a brutal bitch, red in tooth and claw, who destroys what she creates."
Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death
I didn't know them, but: The Internet has a way of exposing you to the world. I've seen teenagers die in war. I've seen children gunned down by Brazilian gangsters. I've seen freak accidents take life from an unsuspecting victim. I've seen weak, scared government brutes murder people for being the wrong color. I didn't know them, but because of some underground fiber cables I witnessed their most intimate of moments.
I didn't die: Maybe I wanted to, I'm not really sure. For a week in August 2016 I lost control of my mind. More accurately, I lost the illusion that I had any control over my mind. I was having panic attacks daily. My consciousness could only bear witness as my body struggled to function. I didn't die, but some deceptions did. The details of that are for another post.
I did die: I have died three times in my life. Once I was driving with my friend Dave when a semi truck flipped onto our car. It happened in slow motion and I was scared. Then I woke up. Prior to my second death I gazed out my downtown Minneapolis window at a dawn rural plain. Then, I watched in horror as a literal demon perched itself on my chest and sucked the soul from my lungs via my throat. Terrifying, though apparently common. Most recently, I died in a plane that lost control. As the weight of the cabin shifted, I sat calmly as chaos ensued around me. I accepted what was happening and slowly drifted from lightheaded to unconscious. Maybe that means something. Or maybe it was just a dream. That was 2 months ago.
"That man lives badly who does not know how to die well."
Seneca the Younger
I should have been there: When he found out he had stage 4 cancer he opted not to treat himself. I admired his bravery. He gave his neck to the sword. He died well. I could have been there, I should have been. The latter only became clear later when my girlfriend was there for me. I miss his distinct, "Hi, honey." That's what he'd say when he answered my girlfriend's calls. She lost her dad on August 3rd, 2018. She was with him, I was not. I hope she won't forgive me.
The worst so far: I just got done eating dinner and arguing with my girlfriend when my mom called.
"Jared, something bad happened"
I swiftly thought, "Did Grandma die? Or was it John? Jesse? Why would she say it that way?" Dad didn't come to mind. We knew very little. He was on a run, he suffered a cardiac arrest, he was revived, and he was on a MedFlight to a bigger hospital. I wrangled the last seat on the last flight home. I thought it was going to be more expensive. Why was I thinking about money at all? On the flight I stayed positive. I wasn't going to kill him before Mother Gaia did. Mother Nature is a brutal bitch, but she gave me 6 days with my dad. I held his leathered hand. I stroked his soft, graying hair. I reveled at his pristinely trimmed eye brows. I got to know my family. I got to know my dad. Then I watched him die. I listened to Keep Me in Your Heart by Warren Zevon on the operating room speakers. I heard his death rattle. Then it stopped and he was gone. It was July 24, 2019. When the tube was pulled he didn't fight it. He, too, died well.
"Man stands face-to-face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world."
Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus
The worst is yet to come: I can only be sure of two things - presently I exist and some day I will not. In a higher dimension these are both true at the same time. So it goes. Bound by the arrow of time in our third dimension, my life matters less every minute. Where blips are registered, this will not. I know these things, yet my life matters to me. I often claim my concern about death is knowing others will have to deal with the pain of it. It is certainly not. I am attached to my experiential self. My umwelt. Buddhism tells me not to be. I know this all, but I don't know it. I really, truly, vociferously do not want to die. But I'm going to. Could be tonight, could be 50 years from now. Maybe even 100 if some are to be believed. I eat a mediterranean, mostly vegan diet. I work out daily. I practice mindfulness. Damn it, I follow the rules. But... Mother Nature is a brutal bitch.
More to come — maybe.
In memory of
- Father Joseph Lunde
- Father Dennis Schmuhl
- Brother Pearce
- Grandpa Jim
- Grandma Ethel and a Grandpa to be named later
- Grandma Kate
- Grandpa Kempfer
- Grandma Audrey and Grandpa Roy
- Great Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill
- Furry brothers Miles and Cosmo
- Those I didn't know, but love just the same
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (So it goes.)
- The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
- How to Die edited by James S. Romm in the words of Seneca the Younger
- The Worm at the Core by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung
- The Dhammapada