I’ll be 60 years old in a few months, an age that as I write this, seems a bit shocking. When people reach the cusp of senior citizenry they naturally begin seeing an up-tick in the number of familiar obituaries or notes from far-flung places that so and so has died. Sometimes unexpectedly, like a friend I lost today, or sometimes after some ghastly illness that makes me want to go ballistic at the ne’er die with dignity crowd — unable to let someone die in peace without taking one last stab at how they should run their life.
My first funeral was my grandfather, who at 76 had a stroke and pitched over the side of a mountain as he walked several miles to Speed’s General Store. Five miles round trip for a tin of snuff. He laid alive, with his head smashed against a rock, off in some impenetrable brush for two days before they found him.
I remember my parents discussing how to tell me while they stood in the hallway outside our ancient hotel room. I already knew before they came in of course. I missed the old bird, but since I only saw him infrequently I wasn’t much the worse for wear. I remember ringing the church bell at Centralia Methodist Church and riding up and down on the lanyard is it swayed to and fro.
My mother died when she was a year older than I am now. Since then, I’ve lost 2 stepmothers, my father, sister, and all the grandparents. You can cross off an assortment of in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends around the world too. Some, like my mother, simply went to sleep and unexpectedly never woke up. Others died in pain or drowning in their own bodily fluids. I have the usual assortment of car accidents and 4 who died in airplane crashes. Death is no stranger at my house.
Nobody Passes Away
For theists, it is a little hard to convey what I feel as an atheist. To me, there is no “passing on”, there is ceasing. One minute you are alive and the next you are dead. No matter the pain you may have been in or the type of life you lead, you simply stop.
Of course, I miss the dead. Anyone who has been a part of your life in any semi-intimate way leaves a hole when they are no more. You help arrange funerals and even attend them not so much because of a remembrance for the dead — they’ve usually been gone only a few days, hardly longer than a short trip to Boca — but because that is what people do — whether they need to or not. Some people find this celebration of a person’s ended life comforting. I think of it as comforting themselves and I don’t feel any particular need for that.
I’m always amazed that people remember birth and death dates, that they are so affected that days on a calendar are reason for sadness. I couldn’t tell you the dates of anyone I’ve known who died. But then, I never remembered my own birthday before I got married and had someone to remember it for me. I’m sure I won’t remember it when I am dead, nor will I care if anyone else does. I’ll have literally gone the dust to dust route and dust is famously unsentimental.
Windy, You had a Good Run
Deaths usually just remind me of life and life ends for all of us. I always think about the famous Monty Python dead parrot routine, but I also think of my bucket list that has grown far longer than I will ever have time to finish. I think about all the things I wish I had done in the past, the missed chances or hurt I may have caused. But I never think of those who died except in terms of how I related to them in life. The good and the bad, because what either of us did is no longer our concern. What is done is done. At the end of the day, that’s all you’ve got and it is certainly all they had to give.
So Aaron, Windspike, I’ll think of you from time to time and how we blogged together at Bring it On. I’ll kick myself for living just across the Bay, but never having raised our acquaintanceship by going to The City for a visit. I’ll remember photos of you after moving to Switzerland and the times we passed Facebook messages across town and across half the world. But I won’t be sorry we knew each other and I won’t mourn or be grief-stricken. I don’t think you’d be offended. We both knew who we were and I’m sure that would’ve been OK with you.
Farewell my friend. I’d say see you again, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t going to happen. Let’s just leave it at, “You had a good run.”