“Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”-W. Somerset Maugham
When I was 12 I lost my father under sudden circumstances and complications to chronic illness. But even at 12 I was no stranger to death. I had lost my grandfather at 9 and Death’s cruel shade would continue to haunt me well into my adulthood. It’s no surprise, really. It’s the one thing we all have in common. Mortality. But we as a group, collective or society don’t talk about it or deal with this fact well and today I’d like to talk about that a little bit more.
Don’t worry. Things will lighten up soon.
When I was 9, my grandfather passed away as mentioned above. He was a great man but he was sick. It was at 9 that I remember being one of the first times asking about my own mortality. As children here in the West, our parents quickly changed the topic of conversation when such serious topics arose. The wording was always very careful.
If you die, you go to heaven.
If, not when.
As if to say because I was a child, I was somehow immune to the nature of entropy. Now, I understand being discrete with children. I’m Southern. And it’s a painful topic to discuss with a child. And not an easy one especially considering that most adults don’t seem to have a solid grasp on mortality. It was also at 9 that my mother told me that I shouldn’t cry at my grandfather’s funeral. I was the oldest of the grandchildren and “had to set an example” for my younger cousins. I was as I said before, 9 years old.
It was this verbiage of if that dotted my childhood. Through natural disasters, terrorism and disease. If.
When my father died at 12, I received a book on how to “cope” with loss. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) [if you have read this book and had great feelings about it, please let me know. I’m almost tempted to give it another read now as a cynical adult to see if angry 12 year old Amanda just didn’t like being given a book to explain the grand mysteries of life and death or it was just a piss-poor book] and I maintain that it’s the most tone-deaf piece of literature ever. It did not help me cope with the loss of my father. It just made me angry. But it was the first time that I remember the tone of loss change. “When we die, this is where we’ll go.” my mother said, standing in front of the open plots. She had purchased two plots: one for me and one for her, shortly after my father’s death. At 12 the fabled if of loss became a when. Life became a ticking clock.
It happens to everyone. It’s just a matter of when.
The reason to bring this up? Recently I joined The Order of the Good Death. A collection of those that say they are Death Positive. Mortality isn’t a curse, it’s a fact. We’re all headed to a grand greater something. What that something is…yet to be unknown. But we’ll all be there.
Another point to bring this up, many of my favorite web celebrities (John and Hank Green are honorable mentions) have been very concerned about mentioning mortality in popular culture. Hank Green recently posted a song to his very popular Youtube channel titled: We’re All Gonna Die. And it’s a brilliant, if not subtly cheeky way, to deal with the fact that our time is finite. I’ve always admired the Green brothers and their candid discussions on their anxiety with the matter; John especially. The Ask a Mortician channel on Youtube is incredibly informative and witty while still being human and it quickly has become one of my favorite new sources for videos.
But as a culture, we’re still uncomfortable talking about death. Some outlets have taken a stand against this and has started to take a stand on realizing that life isn’t something that just goes on forever. We’re mortal. Our lives are very finite and it’s about time we start realizing it. When YOLO first became popular it was a catchall phrase to rationalize somewhat reckless acts because we do in fact “only live once”. Being finite doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless, it means if anything, it means more. We have so many days, minutes, seconds, weeks and so on. Let’s all do something with the time we have. We’re not Wonder Woman, Superman or a sitcom character: and even some superheroes die; they just come back later on. Our universe is even finite: it will eventually end. All of it.
However, being Southern it’s still a taboo topic. We still struggle with the memory, memorial and sanctity of our dead. We value and rush through life with vigor and we mourn the dead as if death never comes. But Death…the handsome gentleman caller that he is, has very little concerns for our Southern ignorance; he just waits.
Enjoy your existence, whether you believe in the cold nihilism of the mostly unforgiving universe or the warm tender embrace of an afterlife as something greater.