I’ve started thinking about death again. I’m coming up on the three-year anniversary of the death of a friend next month, another friend of mine is dealing with a loss right now, my parrot died a year ago this month, and oh yeah, the Apocalypse was supposed to happen yesterday. I’m actually surprised I’ve gone this long without thinking about doom and gloom.
The Fauxpocalypse doesn’t merit additional discussion here, and my friend’s grief is her own. But I can speak to my own experiences.
When people first met my parrot, I used to joke that he’d outlive me, that I chose to have a long-lived pet so I wouldn’t have to face his death. But I wasn’t really joking. I was trying to cheat death, to dodge that burden anyone who has owned a pet with a brief life span has faced. I didn’t want to have to take this buddy to the vet and make a hard decision. He should have outlived me by a large margin. He didn’t. But he died before I could take him to that final vet visit, before I had to make that hard choice. He spared me that much.
My friend’s death was completely unexpected. Her husband, another friend, called to tell me. Shock, pain, horror, disbelief. My wife and I still have moments where we can’t believe she’s gone. She was a sweet woman, a wonderful wife to my friend, and we miss her dearly. We flew out to support my friend. I did my best to be there for him. I served as a pall bearer.
There is something to be said about funerals and closure. The act of putting a person in the ground really brings it home that they are gone. I remember after my grandfather’s death, reaching down into the hole and putting my hand on the box containing his ashes, saying goodbye to him as the earth cut off all other sound. He was gone, and I felt like I’d done right by him, being there.
That was a long time ago, but helping put my friend to rest, carrying her for that last journey, even straightening her husband’s collar and tie shortly before leaving for the funeral, felt the same way. Like you’ve done the closest to the right thing that can possibly be done when someone dies. It’s not a good thing, a great thing, or even something to be celebrated. It’s a duty, a responsibility, an honor.
It also takes a really long time to accept. You never recover from the death of someone close to you. You get used to it. You become accustomed to the weight on your shoulders and don’t notice it most of the time. And if you’re lucky, you don’t face another death before that adjustment period ends.
I think about my surviving friend, about the huge void torn into his life, and I can’t imagine his pain. But at the same time, I CAN imagine it. I’m a father and a husband. I know my parents are mortal and I don’t like it, but I know I’ll face their deaths someday. But the thought of outliving my wife or kids, that’s the sort of stomach-churning dread that keeps me up at night. It is so unthinkable I simply can’t face it.
Some deaths no one should have to face.