Wednesday, August 23, 2006


The topic of death has been circling, lately, like a vulture. There’s no sense of malice in it. Rather, it’s like a disinterested, lazy fact. Like a rock dropping, it doesn’t require effort, nor is there much to stop it. Death and gravity are both just facts of life.

This circling of death started with a friend’s blog. Anne Frasier wrote about experiences of death and questioned how these experiences might play a role in deciding what she and other writers choose as subjects. In the many comments her post received, I read story after story about very personal losses –and was reminded in a powerful way of how little of real grief has touched my own 38 years of existence. Anne mentioned something about a “charmed life” and I wondered, am I living one of those? It sure doesn’t feel charmed, but...

With this whole question fresh in my mind, I heard that another online friend had suffered a terrible blow. Eighteen and in his first week of college, he’d been called home because his father, in the hospital due to a stroke, was not going to make it. With the family depending on this one young man’s strength and decisiveness, I could imagine the stress and the grief was overwhelming. I gave what condolences I could, but that’s just the thing: I could only imagine.

Now, I’ve got a good imagination. I found myself several times in tears about a person I’ve never met outside the virtual confines of an online message board. But isn’t this reaction on par with the tears I shed over a good movie, and the loss experienced by a heroic but nevertheless fictional figure onscreen? How valuable can my little bits of wisdom and empathy be, when they are based on such a lack of personal experience?

Then I found something I’d written after a visit to a hospital.

I felt that my body was burning itself up. My head was just one tremendous pain, that didn’t allow much in the way of thought or control. On the way to Emergency, I started thinking about the man I love, but my brain couldn’t seem to focus on the things I wanted it to. All the lovely moments, all the beautiful imagined futures with him eluded me, and I started silently chanting his name over and over. I wasn’t going to lose the one connection I could still manage. I lay there chanting “Luther, Luther, Luther” while the nice vampire nurse took my blood, and then I sat up to take some pills one by one, calmly saying it would be a shame after all this to choke to death on too many pills.

I’d been freezing for a few days, bundled in layers of sweat-soaked clothing under a down duvet, literally dripping with sweat, but so cold that it actually seemed painful. At the hospital, the nurse made me get out of my bundle of nightgown and housecoat and towel wrapped around my shoulders, because I needed to cool down, and I lay on the bed shivering until they started wheeling me down the hall to the x-ray room. In motion with just a thin sheet on my overheated body, the coolness of the air moving over my damp face suddenly felt lovely, and I know I smiled at that moment. It was possible to feel better. I would live.

I remember being sure that I was going to die. I gave messages to my mother, to take to my friends. But I couldn’t think of any words to give her for Luther. I asked her to call him, but he didn’t answer the phone, and then I was frantic, thinking he should be home and if he wasn’t, something bad had happened. Was he okay? How could I die without being sure?

I realized that I live in fear of losing the people I love. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m just afraid of never seeing Luther again, never hearing his voice, never holding his hand. I don’t believe in souls and afterlifes, so death is truly final. I can’t pretend I’ll still somehow see him and know he’s okay.

My friend James recently lost a family friend. He wrote about the many questions that arise on such occasions. People do struggle to understand the meaning behind death, the impossibility of life and death being so interconnected. When I first read his blog entry, I thought I disagreed. There are no questions, for me. Death is a natural part of life.

But the more I think of it, the more of a crock that proves to be. I question death daily. I cannot accept that I could have Luther taken away from me, whether through his death or through my own. There has to be another answer, a different answer, a solution to the problem. How could I possibly turn a corner one day and not be able to reach out and touch him?

Gods, spirits, souls, meaning, purpose. I think of these concepts as barriers to accepting the finality of death. But even though I don’t believe in any of them, I sit here frowning at the puzzle, thinking in one moment that death is natural and completes us... and in the next moment that there must be another answer. I could die, sure, fine. But stop loving?

I don’t see how that’s right.

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