Okay, so, maybe I’m talking about death a little bit too much on this blog. I’ve talked about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (and even a little bit here). Death is a common obsession for the anxiety ridden and I certainly count myself as such but the obvious reason I write about it is the death of my parents. Losing both my parents in a span of six months has been the most profound event of my life thus far. It was also one of my first essays on this blog.
I had never lost anyone close to me before they died, so, when it happened, I went through some stages of shock and sadness, then malaise, then a sense of absurdity and futility. Time passed, though. Life went on and regular concerns crept back into my life until I started feeling pretty normal again. The one difference, though, is that I’ve been left with a lingering, residual awareness of death. It’s harder for me to stick my head in the sand about it, as I think we all must do to drag ourselves out of bed every morning. Remember that Ali G bit where he said that studies show that ninety-eight percent of us is(sic) gonna die? It’s one of my favorite lines of his but it also implicitly hammers home the fact that, oh yeah, one hundred percent of us die.
So, I’m going to die. I don’t know how and I don’t know when but, frankly, I’m getting curious. Will it be painful? Will it be quick or protracted? It kind of makes you long for the phrases “natural causes” and “in his sleep.”
A couple of years ago I was talking to a friend about her baby daughter who wasn’t sleeping, was throwing temper tantrums, and was generally going through a rough patch. I said, “yeah, man, it’s a lot of work just to have someone come visit you in the nursing home.”
It was kind of a dark joke (my friend laughed, thankfully) but it did get me thinking. Who will visit me in the nursing home? Wait. Back up. Who will put me in a nursing home? Jesus, I don’t want to live in a nursing home. But, if I don’t, then I’m an old man in a New York apartment (or wherever the hell I end up). What if I fall? Should I, like, get a visiting nurse service? How will I afford that?
All of this is assuming that I even make it to old age. There are no guarantees. Let’s set aside the big ones – cancer, heart attack, stroke, overdose (hey, I could start up a cocaine habit on my fortieth birthday, you never know) – I could get hit by a bus, fall down an elevator shaft, get shot, have an air conditioner fall on my head, get attacked by a bear. But, if I’m lucky enough to eschew all that and make it to old age, what other problems will I pick up along the way? Arthritis? Diabetes? Slipped discs? Knee problems? Cataracts? Loss of hearing?
Okay, let’s focus for a second.
I’m thirty-nine. My parents lived to sixty-eight and seventy-two. They died somewhat early but, let’s be honest, I’m around the half way point. A quick google search says that the average American life expectancy is about seventy-nine. If I’m average, that gives me forty more years. Not bad. But maybe I want to go a little longer. Maybe, like five years? Ten? Eighty-nine, then. Eh, let’s call it ninety. That works. I’ll die at ninety. Fifty-one more years.
But, also, I’ve got to be honest, I kind of want to die. I’m not suicidal, relax. I just mean that this journey needs an end, eventually. (Alright, anyone who knows me and knows my tendency to get the sniffles and then worry that it is, in fact, a symptom of pancreatic cancer knows that this is bullshit but let me follow the train of thought.) Have you ever seen those news stories about people who live well past one hundred? Usually their hearing and sight are gone and they’re sitting in a motorized wheelchair. How does that feel? Do they feel fully alive?
Ironically, this knowledge is kind of soothing. I read somewhere, in a self help book of some kind, that you should think about your funeral and what you want people to say about you when you die. All of my petty concerns – and, believe me there are many – shrink in relation to the specter of death. Sometimes I think to myself, “I should have studied harder in school and became a lawyer or a doctor.” But when I think of my funeral, I really don’t care about that. What would bother me at my funeral? Never having gone to Paris. Never having written a book or a play. Never having tried to truly pursue, without fear, the things that I love. Letting friendships slip away. Not being a good person.
Kind of small stuff in the grand scheme but, hell, it’s my life and I can live it how I want. I mean, what does it matter? Eventually, I’m going to die.
So, let’s say I get to ninety. Spot me those fifty-one more years. What now? This brings us back to the existential question, what is the best way to live a life? What makes a life worth living? In a cruel paradox, the more time I take to figure it out the less time I’ll have to actually live. So, maybe don’t worry? Just take each day as it comes? Try to be present and grateful and all that?
Dammit. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Well, like most things, these sentiments can be expressed best through a William Shatner song.
And, I tweeted this once but I still like it, I’d like my headstone to read, “See? All that worrying for nothing.”
I’m kidding. Cremate me.