Death halts time. It makes everything else meaningless. Our daily tasks make zero sense to those who have gone on.
Once, I was running along the shoulder of the road when a funeral procession passed. I felt I should I have stopped running and acknowledged the mourning drivers. To run past felt like I was mocking the dead. Going to work reminds you of the pointlessness of it all. So, we are given bereavement days. But those three days only rush our grief and though our employer may send a card, our workload is hardly lessened.
Doesn’t it seem like some people were destined to die? Of course, we all are, but right now, I’m thinking of those acquaintances whom you have heard have passed on and when you hear of it, it feels like you knew you’d survive them, like their death is just something that happened to them in their life. Like “Did you hear Sally got married?” You weren’t invited to the wedding. In fact, you didn’t even know she was dating someone.
Every death is different. There are those you never met: a celebrity, a distant relative, and a baby you expected. There are also people you knew. Cause of death affects the grief response. The self-inflicted lead to sadness; the homicidal – premeditated and involuntary – lead to vengeance. The naturally caused give us contentment in the sadness. That is the right way to go. The diseased deaths compel us to finance scientific research. The war-inflicted and natural disaster fatalities provide a communal comfort and questions of theodicy.
Every death is the same. He was someone’s husband, father, son, nephew, cousin, friend, neighbor, coworker. She was a wife, a mother, daughter, niece, cousin, friend, neighbor, coworker. It is the last event of every person’s life. It is what we all wait for and live for – not expectantly, but as our final transition. We graduated. We got married. We retired. We died.
On television, the process of death is dramatized and euphemized. What does death look like, medically, really? I only know it is one of tremendous grief.
We revere the dead. They are braver than us. They are wiser. They are older. They are better (off?). But death is a transition they resisted as much as we do. They were us and we will be them. We grieve for our sake, not theirs.
We think grievers “shouldn’t have to make such decisions at a time like this” but when else do any of us make such decisions? There is no way around it; discussing funeral logistics and cold, hard cash is always in the vicinity of a cold, hard body.
There’s a dark joke about the last time your parents held you: they put you down and never picked you up again. Obviously, it’s because you got too big to be held. But if we knew the last time we’d hold our children, how would that change how we held them? Whether we’re comforting them or controlling them. To know our expiration dates would change everything about how we live and move and have our being. I’m glad we don’t know. But it’s sad to not remember the last hug or kiss or conversation. If I knew it was the last one, I would remember it.
The lesson in all of this is one everyone has heard but nobody actually understands until they’re taking the test: life is short.
If you’d like to continue your visit in the house of mourning, taking it to heart because it is, after all, the end of mankind, an extended version of this article can be found on the author’s website.
Further recommended reading: A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
– Scot Bellavia